Perhaps one of the most dangerous situations in summer months is what can happen to children in hot cars. Whether the child is left behind by a caregiver while running errands or a child thinks the vehicle is a great new playground, a hot car can be a dangerous place.
In 2018, 52 children in the United States died from being in a hot car, according to the organization Kids and Cars. So far in 2019, there have been 24 hot car deaths, the organization reports.
The reason a child being in a hot car can be so dangerous is due to the greenhouse effect that occurs. A car, even with the windows down, can heat up very quickly, with the inside temperature rising higher than the temperature outside of the car. This can cause heatstroke, which left untreated can lead to death.
“It’s amazing how hot a car will get especially with the windows rolled up and the car and air conditioning off,” said Sgt. John Shaul of the La Grande Police Department. “That opens up another issue that you shouldn’t leave children unattended at all, not just in the summer months. A child under the age of 12 should not be left unattended unless they are with an older child who can properly take care of them.”
Oregon Law (ORS 163.545) states that it is illegal to leave a child younger than the age of 10 unattended in a car, “for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child.”
According to Kids and Cars, child vehicular heatstroke death happens in a variety of circumstances:
• 56% of cases are from parents unknowingly leaving their child in the car
• 27% of cases are from children getting into the car on their own
• 13% of are were parents knowingly leaving their children in the car
In the remaining 4% of cases, the circumstances are unclear.
There are several ways to prevent these incidents from happening, such as locking your car once everyone is out or keeping keys out of reach of children. If you do leave your child in the car and they are found to be in danger, you can face legal persecution, fines, community service or possibly jail time.
As of 2017, you are protected from criminal or civil liability in Oregon if you are rescuing a child from a car, according to HB 2732, Oregon’s Good Samaritan law. If you see a child left unattended in a car, call 911 immediately, and if they are showing signs of being in immediate danger of heatstroke or dehydration, get them out of the car while waiting for police to arrive. Signs of heatstroke include having red, hot, dry skin or looking nauseous or dizzy or unconscious.