Every year in the United States, an average of 37 children die in hot cars, and 88 percent of the victims are a helpless age three and under. Over half were unknowingly left in the vehicle, and about one-third got in on their own. Other victims of hot car deaths include the elderly and those with special needs. Dozens of pets also die in hot cars every year.

Many adults feel that it’s okay to leave children alone in vehicles. Frequently, they aren’t fully aware of the risks and dangers of doing so.

The dangers of leaving kids or animals unattended in the car are real. According to Amber Rollins, Director at kidsandcars.org, even the best of parents or caregivers can overlook a sleeping baby in a car. Facts show that new parents suffer from exhaustion due to lack of sleep, hormonal changes, stress, and changes to their normal routine.

“This means anyone can be prone to forgetfulness, so it’s essential that parents are aware of the dangers, and make routine and intentional checks before leaving their car unattended,” said Rollins.

Not only can kids and animals quickly die from heatstroke when left in the car, thousands have been strangled to death by power windows they may have accidentally activated. Sometimes parents are outside of the car nearby and don’t even hear a cry for help because children cannot make any noise as they’re being strangled.

A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s does. When left in a hot car, a child’s major organs begin to shut down when their body temperature reaches 104 degrees. A child can die when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees. Cars heat up quickly – in just 10 minutes, a car can heat up by 20 degrees. Heatstroke can happen even when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees.

In addition, every year, hundreds of kids are killed after knocking the car into gear. Some are strangled by seatbelts, or find a lighter in the car and set it on fire. Others might get out of the car and are run over by passing vehicles nearby.

“And there’s always the risk of abduction,” added Rollins. “Some cars are stolen while children are in the backseat.”

In Colorado, where the winters can be cold, leaving kids or animals unattended in a vehicle while the car is idling can be dangerous because ice and snow can clog a tail pipe resulting in lethal carbon monoxide poisoning. In cold weather, a greenhouse effect works by keeping kids warmer in the car. The car seat also acts as insulation for them.

Good Samaritans Protected Under Immunity Law

Currently, only 19 states in the United States have laws that make it illegal to leave children unattended in a vehicle. In Colorado there are no current or proposed laws to make this illegal. However, Colorado does have a specific law, HB17-1179, which provides immunity from civil and criminal liability for anyone who forcibly enters a locked vehicle for the purpose of rendering assistance to an at-risk person or animal. In order to receive immunity, people must:

  • Ensure the vehicle is not a law enforcement vehicle
  • Have a reasonable belief that the person or animal is in imminent danger of death or suffering serious bodily injury
  • Verify the vehicle is locked
  • Make a reasonable effort to locate the owner or operator of the vehicle
  • Contact a law enforcement or other first responder agency prior to forcibly entering the vehicle and not interfere with the actions of any such responding law enforcement agency
  • Us no more force than reasonably necessary to enter the locked vehicle
  • Remain with the at-risk person or animal in a safe location close to the vehicle until law enforcement or other first responder arrives at the scene. If the person rendering assistance has to leave the scene before the owner or operator of the vehicle returns, prior to leaving the scene, the person rendering assistance shall leave a notice on the vehicle. This notice should have his or her name and contact information as well as the name and location, if any, of the facility to which he or she took the at-risk person or animal. Also, prior to leaving the scene, the person rendering assistance shall contact law enforcement, animal control, or other first responder to provide them with the same information. 

In order to break a window of a vehicle safely, there’s a tool sold by kidsandcars.org called Resqme, a spring-loaded hole-punch emergency tool that when punched at the bottom corner of a window will shatter it. It’s easy to use and can be kept on a keychain. Resqme is available at www.KidsandCars.org for $7.50.

“Good Samaritans keeping an eye out for unattended kids or animals is important, added Rollins. “If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Safety Checklist for Parents

Before leaving the vehicle parents should always do the following:

  • Routinely open the back door of your car every time you park to check that no one has been left behind.
  • Put something in the back seat to remind you to open the back door every time you park – your cell phone, employee badge, your shoe, or hand bag for example.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the baby’s car seat. Place it on the front seat as a reminder when baby is in the back seat.
  • Ask your babysitter or child care provider to call you if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway.
  • Keep keys and remote openers out of the reach of children.
  • If a child goes missing, immediately check the trunk and inside of all vehicles in the area carefully.
  • Look before you lock.

For more detailed information, visit www.KidsandCars.org.