Ex­perts: Look be­fore you lock

Scorch­ing tem­per­a­tures put chil­dren, an­i­mals at risk in hot cars

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - ASHTON ELEY

This week, the high tem­per­a­tures are in the mid-90s, but it could be 130 de­grees or hot­ter in­side a car. A child or animal left in the car for min­utes can suf­fer heat stroke or die if the time frame is longer.

In the United States, 19 states have laws that specif­i­cally make it il­le­gal to leave a child unat­tended in a ve­hi­cle, and at least 16 make it il­le­gal to leave an­i­mals in hot ve­hi­cles. Arkansas has nei­ther.

June through Au­gust is the dead­li­est time for chil­dren left in ve­hi­cles, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic

Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A 5-year-old West Mem­phis boy died in June af­ter his day-care work­ers left him unat­tended for eight hours. The high that day didn’t quite reach 90, but in­side the van, the tem­per­a­ture climbed to 141 de­grees, po­lice said.

On av­er­age, 37 chil­dren in the U.S. die of a heat­stroke each year, and 26 chil­dren have al­ready died this year, ac­cord­ing to the na­tional non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Kid­sAndCars. It bases its data on news re­ports, and when pos­si­ble, the group’s vol­un­teers con­firm the in­for­ma­tion in­de­pen­dently with law en­force­ment, lawyers and fam­i­lies.


The death of the 5-yearold boy is an ex­tremely un­usual in­ci­dent, sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing. About 87 per­cent of ve­hic­u­lar heat­stroke vic­tims are 3 or younger. More than half are 1 or younger.

The preva­lence of back­seat, rear-fac­ing car seats is one rea­son most of the vic­tims are so young. The chil­dren are out of the driver’s view and can­not com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively or get out them­selves, Am­ber An­dreasen, di­rec­tor of Kid­sAndCars, said.

“‘Look be­fore you lock’ is some­thing we tell par­ents,” she said. “Put some­thing that you need through­out your day in the back seat to get in the habit of it.”

An­dreasen said she rec­om­mends al­ways leav­ing your wal­let or com­puter. “Take off your left shoe. You won’t get far in the park­ing lot with­out it,” she said.

An­other rea­son for deaths at such a young age is be­cause a child’s body tem­per­a­ture rises three to four times faster than an adult, and the younger a child is, the less able their bod­ies are to reg­u­late body tem­per­a­ture. Two-thirds of the in­crease in tem­per­a­ture hap­pens within 10 min­utes in non-air-con­di­tioned ve­hi­cles, ac­cord­ing to Kid­sAndCars.

“It could spell disas­ter in a mat­ter of min­utes,” An­dreasen said.

She said other pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures are sim­ple. While more than half these deaths hap­pen when a care­giver for­gets the child, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber hap­pen when chil­dren climb into cars and no one knows, she said. Keep car doors locked, even if you don’t have a child, and keep keys out of reach, she said.

“The ab­so­lute worst thing you could do is think this wouldn’t hap­pen to your fam­ily,” An­dreasen said. “There are safety pre­cau­tions ev­ery­one should take and they’re so very worth it.”


In Fayetteville, it is il­le­gal for any­one to con­fine an animal to an “unat­tended, en­closed ve­hi­cle where the out­side tem­per­a­ture is 70 de­grees or greater” when there is no air con­di­tion­ing on or other mea­sures to make sure the in­side of the ve­hi­cle is 100 de­grees or less, ac­cord­ing to an or­di­nance the City Coun­cil passed unan­i­mously in 2015.

“Ev­ery­body likes to take their bud­dies with them, but they are go­ing to be much safer at home,” said Tony Rankin, Fayetteville Animal Ser­vices pro­gram man­ager. “We all say we are go­ing to run into Wal-Mart and it’s just go­ing to take a few min­utes, but you don’t want to take that chance. In five min­utes a dog can start to suf­fer from heat stress.”

Spring­dale and Ben­tonville do not have or­di­nances that specif­i­cally ad­dress leav­ing an­i­mals in hot cars, but the in­ci­dent can fall un­der the cities’ or­di­nance re­gard­ing in­hu­mane treat­ment or con­fine­ment of an animal.

Rogers’ or­di­nance is a lit­tle more spe­cific, stat­ing it’s against the law for any­one to “… con­fine in a ve­hi­cle in an in­hu­mane man­ner, or oth­er­wise mis­treat any animal.”

Pu­n­ish­ments vary, but some­one found guilty can be fined up to $1,000 and sen­tenced to a year in jail for an animal cru­elty first of­fense, said Melissa Reeves, Spring­dale spokes­woman.

In Fayetteville, leav­ing an animal in the car can draw a fine up to $500, plus an im­pound fee to get it back from Animal Ser­vices.

Most an­i­mals are left in ve­hi­cles in shop­ping cen­ter or restau­rant park­ing lots. Fayetteville Animal Ser­vices has re­sponded to 64 com­plaints since March, with 22 so far this month, Rankin said.

“If you are in vi­o­la­tion of the or­di­nance you will get a ticket,” he said.

As for those good Sa­mar­i­tans who want to res­cue a hot puppy, it may be wise to keep in mind there is no law pro­tect­ing them from be­ing charged with a crime. Many states do have such laws, but Arkansas does not.

“As far as a Good Sa­mar­i­tan break­ing a car win­dow, those in­ci­dents are taken on a case-by-case ba­sis,” Reeves said.

Rankin said he has never seen some­one break in, but would rec­om­mend call­ing the po­lice or animal ser­vices if they see an animal left in a hot ve­hi­cle.

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