Congress is considering requiring car manufacturers to equip vehicles with a safety device to warn of a child or pet left in the back seat of a parked car. The goal of the warning system is to prevent children from dying of heatstroke in hot cars, a growing trend that claims dozens of young lives each year.
The U.S. Senate and House are considering separate versions of the Hot Cars Act of 2019 (H.R. 3593 and S.B. 1601). Each piece of legislation calls for a rule within two years of adoption to require an audible, visual and tactile warning in all new passenger vehicles if an occupant is detected in the rear of a parked car.
The alarms would alert distracted parents who inadvertently leave a child in the back seat of a parked car and would help avoid preventable tragedies. A similar bill introduced in Congress in 2017 failed, according to ABC News.
How Many Children Have Died in Hot Cars?
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 52 children died in hot cars in 2018, making it the deadliest year on record in the past 20 years. Since 1998, almost 800 children have died from vehicular heatstroke.
As of mid-July, 21 children had died of heatstroke after being left in cars in 2019, according to No Heat Stroke, a project of the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University. Four were in Texas. One was in Kansas. One was in eastern Missouri.
How Hot Does the Inside of a Car Get?
The average high temperature in Oklahoma City in July is in the 90s. A heat wave quickly can push the thermometer over 100 degrees.
The Children’s Hospital at Oklahoma University (OU) Medicine says a parked car’s interior temperature can rise nearly 20 degrees in 10 minutes, even with a window open. Meanwhile, a child’s body temperature rises faster than an adult’s and a child can suffer permanent brain or organ damage or die within minutes of being left in a hot car.
Most deaths among children in hot cars occur from May through September, OU Medicine says.
Children Death by Heatstroke Statistics in Oklahoma
No Heat Stroke says 23 children in Oklahoma have died of vehicular heatstroke since 1998. They ranged in age from 6 weeks to 12 years old.
Children identified by the No Heat Stroke project were left in hot cars in:
- Ardmore (twice)
- Broken Arrow
- Cache (two children)
- Del City
- El Reno
- Norman (twice, three children)
- Tulsa (twice).
On June 29, police in Owasso arrested a mother who allegedly left her baby in a hot car while she shopped at a liquor store. Officers said the 14-month-old child was only wearing a wet diaper and showed signs of medical distress.
Nearly one-quarter of children who died from vehicular heatstroke in 2018 perished in employer parking lots while the parent or caregiver was at work, the NSC says.
Leaving Child in Car Illegal in Oklahoma
Oklahoma law (OK Stat § 47-11-1119) makes it illegal to leave a child age 6 or younger – or a vulnerable adult (as defined in OK Stat § 43A-10-103(5)) – unattended in a motor vehicle if the conditions present a risk to the child’s health or safety. It’s not a crime if the child or vulnerable adult is accompanied by someone who is at least 12 years old and mentally competent.
A violation can be punished by a fine of at least $50 on a first conviction. A second conviction is punishable by a fine of at least $100 and 50 hours of community service. A third or subsequent conviction is punishable by a fine of at least $200, and the individual’s full record is submitted to the Department of Human Services for evaluation.
A person who leaves a child or vulnerable adult in a car unattended while drinking or outside a bar faces a $500 fine.
What to Do if You See a Child Alone in a Vehicle in Oklahoma
If you see an unattended child in a car in Oklahoma, state law §47-11-1120 says you can break into the car to remove the child and not be responsible for damage to the vehicle, if you:
- Have called police, the fire department or 911 dispatchers for help
- Determine the vehicle is locked or that there is no other reasonable way to get the child out
- Use no more force than necessary under the circumstances to get the child out
- Have a good-faith and reasonable belief the child is in imminent danger if not removed from the car
- Put a note on the windshield that provides your contact information, why you broke into the car, where you and the child are and that the authorities have been notified
- Stay with the child in a safe location out of the elements but reasonably close to the vehicle until law enforcement, fire or other emergency responders arrive.
Personal Injury Liability for Other People’s Children
In a situation in which someone other than a child’s parent is caring for them and allows a child to be injured by leaving him or her in a hot car, the responsible adult may face civil liability. The child’s parent(s) may pursue a personal injury claim on behalf of the child or a wrongful death claim in a fatal accident.
All adults have general legal responsibility for the welfare of minor-age children in their presence and may be held liable for carelessness, negligence or recklessness of their own that causes a youngster to be harmed. The law confers a responsibility on individuals acting in the place of a parent such as daycare workers, teachers, school bus drivers, coaches and other temporary substitutes for parents.
A legal claim filed against an adult responsible for a child’s injury would seek compensation for medical bills and for pain and suffering, including the child’s pain and the parents’ grief for wrongful death or a serious lasting injury, such as brain damage due to overheating in a hot car.
Money recovered from an insurance claim or a lawsuit cannot reverse what has happened to a child, but it can keep a tragic incident from being financially damaging to the child’s family while focusing attention on a problem.
The personal injury attorneys at Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons in Oklahoma City stand up for individuals and families in Oklahoma that have been harmed due to others’ negligence or disregard for safety. When you need help most, our dedicated attorneys provide compassionate and trusted legal counsel to help you move forward after preventable accidents. Contact us today to arrange your free initial consultation.