TDOS Reminds Motorists: Never Leave Children Unattended in a Vehicle

June 17, 2010

With above average temperatures this June, the ‘dog days of summer' are certainly looming on the state of Tennessee. As the heat becomes a factor, the Tennessee Department of Safety would like to remind motorists to never leave children or pets in an unattended vehicle, which can be a dangerous and sometimes deadly offense.

"A child or a pet should never be left in an unattended vehicle under any circumstances – especially in the heat," said Department of Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell. "Motorists should routinely make sure all occupants exit the vehicle whenever they leave a car. An illness or even worse, a death, due to such a senseless tragedy is absolutely preventable."

On a typical sunny, summer day, experts say the temperature inside a car can reach potentially deadly levels within minutes. Even on a mild day at 73 degrees outside, an SUV can heat up to 100 degrees in 10 minutes and to 120 degrees in just 30 minutes. At 90 degrees outside, the interior of a vehicle can heat up to 160 degrees within several minutes.

"Children are not safe from heat buildup when motorists crack the window of a parked car," said Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel

Mike Walker. "The best way to protect your children is to never leave them unattended in a vehicle; not even for a minute. This negligence could lead to the loss of a loved one, as well as jail time or stiff penalties. Don't risk it."

Make sure your child is safe this summer and always follow a few simple safety tips:

Children should never be left alone in a vehicle, not even to run a quick errand.

Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don't overlook sleeping babies.

Children can set a vehicle in motion. Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access
to keys or remote entry devices.

If a child gets locked inside, call 911 and get him/her out as soon as possible.

Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway.

Keys should never be left within reach or sight of children.

If you see a child or animal unattended in a car, be proactive and call 911.

Only 15 states, including Tennessee, have laws that prohibit leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.

State law provides that "any person who knowingly, other than by accidental means, treats a child under eighteen years of age in such a manner as to inflict injury commits a Class A misdemeanor. Class A Misdemeanors carry a penalty of not greater than 11 months, 29 days or a fine up to $2,500, or both. If the abused child is six years of age or less, the penalty is a Class D felony.

State law carries a possible Class B or Class A felony for aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect or endangerment. Class A Felonies can carry a penalty of not less than 15 no more than 60 years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed $50,000.

Under state law, it is an offense for a person responsible for a child younger than seven (7) years
of age to knowingly leave that child in a motor vehicle located on public property or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park, or any apartment house complex, or any other premises that is generally frequented by the public at large without being supervised in the motor vehicle by a person who is at least thirteen (13) years of age, if:

(1) The conditions present a risk to the child's health or safety;

(2) The engine of the motor vehicle is running; or

(3) The keys to the motor vehicle are located anywhere inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

(b) A violation of this section is a Class B misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of two hundred dollars ($200) for the first offense.

(c) A second or subsequent violation of this section is a Class B misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of five hundred dollars ($500).

As of June 13, 2010, there have been 10 child deaths in the United States due to hyperthermia from being left behind in hot vehicles. Last year, nationwide, there were at least 33 U.S. deaths due to the same cause. (Source: San Francisco State University)

Motorists should also take precautions in the event of a break down on a highway, especially with children or senior citizens in the vehicle. The Tennessee Highway Patrol suggests the following safety tips when traveling:

For highway emergencies, summon help immediately via cellular phone by dialing *THP (*847) to connect to the nearest THP District Headquarters.

Have a basic first aid/survival kit, including two-three bottles of water per person, in vehicle.

If vehicle begins to overheat, turn off the air conditioner.

If a break down occurs, steer your vehicle as far away from the flow of traffic as possible.

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