KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As the summer season begins and temperatures increase, so do the chances of children and animals being forgotten inside hot cars.
In an effort to prevent more hot car deaths in Tennessee, there is a law called the Good Samaritan Law, which makes it legal for people to respond if they come across a child or animal in distress inside a vehicle.
Many people in Knoxville remember the horrific moment in 2019 when a six-month-old boy died after being left inside his mother’s car as the vehicle’s temperature reached 100 degrees. It is that type of situation that happens year after year, child after child, and animal after animal.
According to No Heat Stroke, 910 children have died due to pediatric vehicular heatstroke since 1998. So far this year, there have been three pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths reported.
Assess the situation
However, before you begin breaking any windows, there are some other steps you need to take. The first one is to assess the situation and call 911.
“If the kid does not appear to be in any immediate distress, then there’s no need for you to take that immediate action of breaking a window or trying to enter that car,” said Scott Erland, Knoxville Police Department Public Information Officer.
Then ask yourself if the car is on or are the windows cracked. If you answer yes, Erland said it is time to head inside the nearest store to track down the car’s owner.
“That’s going to be the first question that an officer asks you. Has anybody made an attempt to locate who owns this vehicle? Who might be the guardian of this child?”
Of course, that’s the best-case scenario. What happens if things take a turn for the worst?
What to do if child or animal is in distress
“Obviously call 911 immediately,” Erland told WATE. “If you feel like you’re in a situation where you need to immediately get assistance to that kid, get that kid out of the car, then try to see if the door is unlocked. If you have to, you can try to break the window.”
If it comes to this step, there are some important things to keep in mind. One, the goal is to be as safe as possible — both for you and whoever is inside.
Use a blunt object to break the window, but be sure to do it as far away from the child or animal as possible. And when it comes to any legal repercussions, that is where the Good Samaritan Law comes into play.
“The Good Samaritan Law protects you in that case but make sure you’ve called 911 and only do that as a last resort if you have to absolutely do that,” Erland explained. “But again, we wouldn’t discourage somebody from doing that if they felt like they have to act based on their instincts and what they’ve observed.”
Good Samaritan Law and animals
It is important to note the Good Samaritan Law also applies to animals that are in distress inside hot cars. However, Young-Williams Animal Center released the following reminders so that your pet never finds itself in that situation:
- Never leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle. This is illegal in Tennessee and can cause fatal heatstroke.
- 88 degrees is the threshold for life-threatening temperature
- The temperature inside your car can rise almost 20 degrees in ten minutes
- At 60 minutes, the temperature can rise 40 degrees
- Even on a 70-degree day, it could be 90 degrees inside your vehicle in ten minutes and 110 degrees after one hour
View the full Good Samaritan Law
Tennessee is among 21 states that have laws that address leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.