There have been several cases in the news about children being left in hot cars, most notably, the Justin Harris case in Georgia with baby Cooper.
That case, along with the State v. Shanesha Taylor case, raises the question “Do we need a law to stop people from leaving children in their hot cars?”
My answer: It couldn’t hurt.
According to KidsandCars.org, there are 19 states that have laws making it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Arizona is not one of them, even though our neighboring states of California, Nevada and Utah have all adopted laws. Tennessee is the most recent state to adopt a law protecting not only children, but the Good Samaritans that step in to help.
Even though Arizona has several laws that can be used to prosecute someone who leaves a child in a hot car, such as negligent homicide, endangerment and child abuse, there is no law specifically addressing leaving a child in a hot car. With that being said, Arizona does have one for leaving an animal in a hot car. Since the legislature has seen it fit to create a law for the safety of animals, I think it is reasonable to believe we will have one for children in the very near future.
Do we need another law? No, we do not NEED another law but I suggest to you that having a specific one on the books, if written properly, would help raise awareness of the issue. Notice I wrote “if written properly.” A quickly-drafted law without sufficient consideration of common sense issues would cause more trouble than help. There are several facets that would need to be considered in drafting an effective law including:
The length of time the child is left in the car
The distance an adult can be from the child in the car
The outside temperature and the season
Whether the vehicle is running or the keys are in the ignition
Should a bystander be allowed to break into the car
The age of the child
What kind of punishment should be imposed.
By way of example, a relevant question to ask when drafting this law would be, “Would it be appropriate to charge an adult with a crime if they are running in to get their dry cleaning? Or to pay for gas?”
Another relevant question would be, should the law contain a Good Samaritan portion? Tennessee’s law includes a provision that if a Good Samaritan sees a child in distress, then calls 911, and only as a last resort breaks into the vehicle to save the child, that Good Samaritan is not subject to any punishment for their actions. That provision could be problematic in that some might believe they can just break into a car. Yet, if it were to be included, and if there was enough public education about the directions a Good Samaritan must follow, it could save a child’s life and that is priceless.
As a side bar, there are other dangers to leaving a child in a car other than the temperature. For example, what if someone tried to kidnap them? Or tried to steal the car? Or what if the child got out of their car seat and crawled into the front seat?
At the end of the day we do not NEED another law, but if having one could help raise awareness and save at least one child’s life, then I say DO IT.