NASHVILLE — Today marks the official start of summer and as temperatures rise, the Tennessee Highway Patrol would like to remind motorists to never leave children or pets in an unattended vehicle.
“Our ultimate goal is to prevent the senseless death of children who have been left in unattended vehicles,” said Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons. “Everyone should be especially cautious in the summer months and protect children in their custody from heat-related accidents. Those who fail to fulfill their responsibility to children face criminal prosecution.”
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.
“The best way to protect your children is to never leave them unattended in a vehicle, not even for a minute,” said THP Colonel Tracy Trott. “This negligence could lead to the loss of a loved one, as well as jail time. It’s simply not worth the risk.”
Only 19 states, including Tennessee, have laws that prohibit leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.
TCA Code 39-15-401 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.
TCA Code 39-13-212 states that criminally negligent homicide is a Class E felony.
TCA Code 39-15-402 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.
TCA Code 55-10-803 (a) 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 20, 2011, there have been at least 15 deaths of children in the United States due to hyperthermia. Last year, nationwide, there were at least 49 U.S. deaths due to the same cause. (Source: San Francisco State University)
Follow a few simple safety steps to make sure your child is safe this summer:
• Dial 911 immediately if you see an unattended child in a car. EMS professionals are trained to determine if a child is in trouble.
• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open.
• Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or whatever is to be carried from the car, on the floor in front of a child in a backseat. This triggers adults to see children when they open the rear door and reach for their belongings.
• Teach children not to play in any vehicle.
• Lock all vehicle doors and trunk after everyone has exited the vehicle – especially at home. Keep keys out of children’s reach. Cars are not playgrounds or babysitters.
• Check vehicles and trunks FIRST if a child goes missing. (Source: Safekids.org)
The Tennessee Department of Human Services is taking similar steps to protect children transported by child care providers. To learn more, visit: http://www.tn.gov/humanserv/news/11/news-06-08-11.pdf
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.
The Tennessee Department of Safety’s mission is to ensure the safety and general welfare of the public. The department encompasses the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Office of Homeland Security and Driver License Services. General areas of responsibility include law enforcement, safety education, motorist services and terrorism prevention.