Pennsylvania initiates law to help protect children left in hot cars

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Thanks to a new law that goes into effect today, individuals taking certain steps to rescue children in hot cars will be provided some legal immunity in Pennsylvania.

On May 16, Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill protecting Good Samaritans from liability or damages caused by taking action to protect a child from imminent danger. The bill protects individuals as long as that person has tried to contact the owner of the vehicle and emergency responders, and uses no more force than necessary.

“Sunshine streaming through car windows turns the vehicle into an oven, and lower the windows slightly is ineffective at keeping the temperature low. This law, and last year’s law for pets trapped in hot cars, will go a long way towards reversing the alarming upward trend of hot car fatalities,” said Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs for AAA East Central.

The National Safety Council reports 51 children died last year of pediatric vehicular heatstroke, which is more than any other year on record. Heat rapidly overwhelms the body’s ability to regulate temperature, and children under the age of four are especially vulnerable because their bodies do not have the same internal temperature control as an adult’s, and can warm three times to five times faster.

Heatstroke can occur when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees, and even with the windows slightly lower, temperatures inside a car can reach 125 degrees in minutes.

While carmakers continue to develop new safety features to assist parents, AAA offers safety tips.

According to AAA, never leave children or animals unattended in a car, not even for a short period of time. Create reminders and habits, such as leaving an item needed at your next stop in the back seat. Make sure all child passengers have left the vehicle after it is parked. Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway, to prevent children from climbing into vehicles and becoming trapped. Never leave keys and/or remote openers within reach of children.

According to PennDOT, Governor Wolf signed House Bill 1216 into effect last fall, which gives police officers and first responders the authority to enter a vehicle and retrieve a cat or dog that is in immediate distress. 

While it is similar to the child rescue law, in that officers or emergency responders must have a good-faith and reasonable belief that imminent danger is at hand, House Bill 1216 is different in that it does not give civilians the authority to enter a vehicle by force.  PennDOT advises those who see a dog or cat in a vehicle that appears to be in distress to contact local authorities, and to not enter the vehicle themselves.

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