December 6, 2018
With school out and summer upon us, parents will be driving their children all over the place. As such, I caution motorists about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. We sometimes hear in the news where a parent or child care giver, often distracted, stressed and overworked, forgets a helpless child inside a sweltering car on a hot summer day. Sometimes a parent will leave a child unattended while making a “quick” trip into the grocery store to spare the inconvenience of toting around a child. These situations, among many others, are those we should diligently try to prevent because the consequences may be fatal. In short, it is never appropriate to leave a young child unattended in a vehicle, no matter the duration.
Since 1998, 764 children left in cars have died due to heatstroke in the United States. In 2013, that number totaled 43 and so far in 2018, 21 children have died due to heatstroke because they were left in a car. There have also been a number of close calls where children would have died had it not been for the diligence of ordinary citizens, police officers and emergency responders. Kentucky has not fared well recently as one of the deaths this year occurred in Crittenden, Kentucky. After examining media reports, it was calculated that 54% of these deaths were due to the child being “forgotten,” 27% due to children playing in unattended vehicles, and 18% due to a child being intentionally left in a vehicle by an adult.
According to one study, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise more than 40 degrees in the span of an hour, with 80 percent of that increase occurring during the first half hour. Researchers also found that cracking the windows did little to help. On a day with temperatures in the 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can exceed 100 degrees within ten minutes.
Experts and advocacy groups suggest parents protect children with simple reminders such as placing something you have, purse or briefcase, in the backseat with the child or safely tying a ribbon to the car door handle to remind you the child is in the car seat. Other example reminders include setting alerts on your phone, placing stickers on your dashboard or driver’s side door, and putting items you need for that particular trip in the back seat where the child is sitting.
Twenty-one states, including Kentucky, have laws against leaving children unattended in vehicles. In Kentucky, if you leave a child under the age of eight years old in a car under circumstances which manifest an extreme indifference to human life and creates a grave risk of death to the child, thereby causing the death of the child, you can be found guilty of manslaughter in the second degree. Second Degree Manslaughter is a Class C felony that carries a potential penalty of up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Even in circumstances where a child survives the incident, parents and caregivers could still face criminal charges for endangering the welfare of a minor or criminal abuse in the third degree, both of which carry penalties of up to 12 months in jail and a $500 fine.
I hope you have found this information helpful. If you have any topics you would like to have covered in this column, please contact my office by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 491-7700 or by regular mail addressed to 319 York Street, Newport, Kentucky 41071.