What would you do if you saw a small child or animal in distress trapped inside a hot car? Would you know how to help save a life? Recently Kansas joined 20 other states in passing a Good Samaritan law to protect residents of the state from liability if they break into a vehicle to rescue a child, animal or vulnerable adult in distress. Beyond just protecting a these heroes from civil liability, the law more importantly empowers citizens to act when they otherwise might not have. Several years ago, I received a hysterical phone call from Stephanie Pinon, a mother who had lost her daughter Jahzel in a hot car. Stephanie had just left the police department where she read the report from her daughter’s death. She learned that not one, but two people had come forward to report they had seen Jahzel inside her van that fateful day, but did nothing. Perhaps they felt it was “none of their business,” or were afraid of liability if they did act. Every year in the U.S. an average of 37 children die in hot cars, and 88 percent of the victims are a helpless age 3 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. The inside of a vehicle acts like a greenhouse, heating up to deadly temperatures within minutes, even on mild days. On a 90-degree day, the interior of a parked car can soar to over 115 degrees within 15 minutes. Quite literally, minutes can make the difference between life and severe brain damage or death. If you come across a person or animal in imminent danger inside a hot car, be prepared. If the vehicle is locked you, will probably need to break the side window furthest away from the victim to gain entry. Breaking into a vehicle can be difficult and time consuming without the proper tools. Small and affordable glass breakers such as the Resqme Car Escape Tool are available from many retailers. Everyone should have one of these devices on their keychains. They will easily smash the side window of a vehicle and cut off a seat belt in an emergency. To use the tool, break the bottom corner of the window, where it is the weakest. Next, move the victim into a cool place to reverse the effects of heatstroke as quickly as possible. Removing the victim’s clothing and using water to cool the body is helpful. Ask a bystander to call 911 while you take action, or once you have gotten the victim out of the heat. You do not have to call 911 before you enter the vehicle. Minutes can mean the difference between life or death. The law does require you to stay with the victim until law enforcement arrives.
To prevent these tragedies, follow these “Look Before You Lock” tips:
▪ Make it a routine to open the back door of your car every time you park.
▪ Put something you need in the back seat to remind you to open the back door — a cellphone, employee badge, handbag or other item you need to keep with you.
▪ Ask your babysitter or child care provider to call you if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
▪ Keep a stuffed animal in the baby’s car seat. Place it on the front passenger seat as a reminder when the baby is in the back seat.
▪ Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway.
▪ Keep keys and remote openers away from children.
▪ If a child is missing, immediately check the passenger compartment and trunk of all nearby vehicles.
Learn more about keeping children safe in and around vehicles at www.KidsAndCars.org. It’s up to all of us to prevent a tragedy that doesn’t have to happen.
Amber Rollins is director of KidsAndCars.org.