Have you ever seen a baby or a dog left in a hot car in a parking lot on a hot day and worried for its safety and well-being? Sadly, animals, infants, and young children being left in hot cars is not an uncommon incident. Many people do not realize just how hot it can be inside a parked car compared to the temperature outside, and sometimes, bystanders are too afraid to act when they see a child or dog left in the car in the heat for fear of being taken to court for damages sustained in breaching someone else’s vehicle.

One estimate says that after sitting in 80-degree weather for about an hour, the interior of a vehicle parked in the sun can be about 123 degrees. Heatstroke occurs in humans when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees or higher and the thermoregulatory system is overwhelmed and unable to cool the body. Children’s thermoregulatory systems are not as developed and strong as those of an adult, and their bodies heat up 3 to 5 times faster. Heatstroke in dogs occurs in a similar way, setting in when the animal’s core body temperature reaches about 103 degrees. Unlike humans however, dogs reduce body heat by panting, and when panting is no longer enough to cool their bodies, they become overheated.

According to Jan Null, CCM of the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University, 685 children have died of heatstroke from being left in a hot car since the year 1998 in the United States. Reporting on animal deaths is not as meticulous, but is said to be hundreds per year.

The heat of summer 2016 has been particularly brutal lately, with several oppressive heat waves striking the state. Early this summer, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 215 into law, which provides immunity from civil liability for individuals who break into a hot vehicle in order to save a child or animal in distress. The proposal officially goes into effect on August 29, 2016, and has been lauded by both medical professionals and animal rights advocates.

There are certain criteria that must be met under this law in order for the individual rescuing the animal or child to be granted immunity from civil liability for damages to the vehicle, including the following:

  • The person must first determine that all of the vehicle doors are locked and that the child or animal is in danger or is suffering harm. If necessary, the individual should also call for emergency help.
  • The person must not use any more force than necessary in order to gain entry to the vehicle to save the child or animal. Excessive force and resulting damages to the car are not protected under this law.
  • The person must leave a note containing the following information on the person’s windshield:
    • Contact information;
    • The reason forcible entry to the vehicle was made;
    • The location of the child or the animal that was rescued; and,
    • The fact that authorities have been notified.

Once the animal or child has been removed from the vehicle, and the note has been left on the vehicle’s windshield, the rescuer must remain with the minor or animal in a safe location that is out of the elements but reasonably close to the vehicle while waiting for law enforcement or emergency responders to arrive on the scene.

Hopefully, the law will compel more individuals to do the right thing and take action to help an animal or child in distress in this type of situation, without fear of legal repercussions holding them back from doing so. For more on Senate Bill 215, visit the Ohio Legislature’s bill summary website. –Kelsey Hardin

Kelsey Hardin is a crazy cat lady and graduate of the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. Living back in Columbus where she grew up, she spends her spare time writing, cuddling cats, crafting, spending time with friends, and catching local concerts and theatre shows.

Photo Credit: Linnaea Mallette