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Child Deaths In Hot Cars: How You Can Help

Capital Public Radio

Capital Public Radio

With Sacramento temperatures expected to hover in the high 90s this week and beyond, safety advocates say people shouldn’t hesitate to free a child who appears trapped in a backseat.

A 2-year-old boy died in a vehicle outside his Sacramento home earlier this month after being left alone for an unknown length of time. The death came just weeks after an 18-month-old died in a car in Mendocino County.

Experts say just a few minutes is dangerous in the summer, even if it isn’t a blazing hot day.

Janette Fennell with the national safety group Kids and Cars said passersby sometimes hesitate to break in and save a child because they don’t think it’s their business.

“When you’re talking about children, and you’re talking about hot cars, it’s everybody’s business,” she said. “We all need to work together and make sure children don’t perish in that manner.”

A 2017 California law protects people who break into cars to save animals at risk of heat death. There isn’t an equivalent policy for children, but Shaun Hampton with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said passersby who intervene in medical emergencies are covered by the state’s Good Samaritan law.

“If someone feels they’re observing a situation where there is a life in danger, if they feel they should take action, by all means they should,” he said.

Still, Fennell said a rule specifically clarifying the rules for saving children in hot vehicles would help make people more confident. Nineteen states have a law for this purpose, according to her organization.

“That helps people understand it’s OK to get involved,” she said. “Since the passage of those type of  laws ... it’s almost on a daily basis we are receiving stories where children’s lives are save because somebody intervened.”

There have been two child vehicular heatstroke deaths in California this year, and 24 nationwide, according to NoHeatStroke.Org, a project out of San Jose State University.

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