Summer weather in Texas means rising temperatures and humidity. It’s not uncommon to walk outside after a shower and feel like you need to take one again—that’s just how Texas is, especially the South Central Texas region. The Summer season is also when we tend to see the highest number of news stories of children being left in hot cars. The majority of these news stories do not end well and the hurt and pain that is left behind impacts families, communities and first responders in untold ways.
According to “Heatstroke Deaths of Children in Vehicles” by San Jose State University (updated August 12, 2016):
- 20 states have Unattended Child Laws that have language that address leaving a child alone in a car.
- 30 states do not have laws that are specific to leaving a child unattended in a car.
- Of those 30, 14 have proposed unattended child laws
- 10 states have “Good Samaritan Laws” with language that protects the person who sees a child in a car and takes action to offer assistance.
Texas Unattended Child Law
a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is
- (1) younger than seven years of age; and
- (2) not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older.
(b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.
Since 1998, there have been 688 heatstroke deaths of children left in cars nationwide and the number is growing. Many blame the shift in our attention to mobile devices which distract us. We are constantly talking to people on the phone, changing our playlist, looking at maps, or browsing social media and we lose track of what is most important and go about our day. That is never a justification, and its the driver’s responsibility to be aware of passenger safety.
Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, a national child safety nonprofit based in Philadelphia, stated in an interview with ABC News:
“The toll began rising sharply in the 1990s with the passing of laws requiring that young children be placed in the back seat to avoid air-bag injuries. With the children strapped into the back seat, drivers can tend to forget them.”Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org
In that same report, there was an incident involving a 7-month old who died in a car while his father went to work and forgot that his son was in the back seat.
Studies show that 54% of these incidents occur when children are “forgotten” by their caregiver, 29% are the result of a child playing in an unattended vehicle, and 17% occur when a child was left intentionally in a vehicle by an adult (whether to run in to grab a coffee, a to-go order, etc).
All of these scenarios could have been avoided, and in Texas, it’s against the law!
To give a better understanding of how quickly the inside of a car can become deadly, when it is 80 degrees outside, the inside of your car can reach temperatures of 123 degrees in about an hour.
The same San Jose State University study broke down the temperature increase over short amounts of time to give people an idea of how quickly your car can turn into an oven.
- 10 minutes ~ 19 degrees F
- 20 minutes ~ 29 degrees F
- 30 minutes ~ 34 degrees F
- 60 minutes ~ 43 degrees F
- 1 to 2 hours ~ 45-50 degrees F
These are conditions no human should have to endure. Web MD defines heatstroke as the following: “…when body temperature passes 104 degrees Fahrenheit. That overwhelms the brain’s temperature control, causing symptoms such as dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, loss of consciousness, and/or death.”
Summer may be coming to an end, but that does not mean this issue becomes less relevant. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings. As a driver, you are responsible for all passengers. If you witness a child unattended in a hot car, it’s imperative that you render aid by calling the authorities.
Joyner+Joyner – Texas Law Firm urges all drivers, especially parents and caregivers, to be aware of their surroundings, put down their mobile devices, lower or turn off the radio and always check back seats before leaving the vehicle. It seems unthinkable that a child could get left in the car, but it happens, and the driver needs to bear this responsibility.