Summer Days, Hot Cars, and the Law

As summer winds down to an end, cars parked along streets and in parking lots can reach alarming temperatures in a big hurry. On a balmy 80-degree Fahrenheit day, temperatures in a vehicle with the windows rolled up can reach an alarming 130 to 178 degrees – definitely warm enough to be life-threatening.

A Mother’s Panic

A Michigan mom, Lacey Guyton,  was just leaving her grandmother’s home. She strapped her baby into her little car seat, put the diaper bag in the car, and closed the door. Then she heard the doors lock. Her key fobgreen car on field in the sun didn’t work. Raina, the little girl, started crying. Lacey tried to smash a window while her grandmother dialed 911. The police dispatcher politely explained that they didn’t break windows or unlock doors, but that she could send a tow truck. Lacey tried calling and pleading with the dispatcher, who said no, they didn’t do that and neither did the fire department. At last, Lacey was able to break the back window on her car and rescue her daughter.

A Misadventure That Ended Well

There has been a lot of Internet hyperbole about not leaving pets or children in a locked vehicle – certainly good advice at any time, but especially on days when you could fry an egg on the hood of your car. Lacey Guyton had made the sort of mistake that many of us have made. She accidentally locked her keys in her car and found herself in the terrifying position of having her child in a dangerous situation. Aside from having a bill for repairing her window, she and her daughter emerged from the misadventure with nothing worse than a bad scare.

What Happens When the Child or Pet Are not Yours?

But what if the child or pet that has been left in a car are not yours? What are your legal obligations or your coverage under the law? Are you criminally liable?

In 2015, the state of Tennessee got the ball rolling with a law that protects good Samaritans who break into a car to assist an endangered child or pet. As of writing, many other states have also passed laws that governed what you can and cannot do if you think a child or pet is in danger. Florida is one example. But the laws are not all the same and they are not in effect everywhere. There are, however, some commonsense things that you can do if you fear for the life of a child or pet.

Observe for a few minutes. If the parent or caregiver is back in five minutes, you know that they were thinking ahead. If you don’t see anyone in what seems like a reasonable amount of time and the child or pet seem to be in distress, call 911. See if you can flag someone down to have the store page the owner of the vehicle. That helps protect you if the occupant’s distress increases. Wait, watch and be ready to flag down the authorities when they arrive. Only if you truly feel that a life is in danger should you break a window, and you should be aware that you could be putting yourself in danger of being arrested.

In a perfect world, people would never leave a child or pet alone in a vehicle. But our world is far from perfect.

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