Children Heat-Related Car Deaths

Should an adult who leaves their child in a hot car resulting in injury or death be charged with a crime?

What if the adult in charge (parent, older sibling, neighbor) acted in a reckless fashion and knew what they were doing but didn’t fully appreciate the risk? What about an adult intentionally leaving his child in the car so as not be inconvenienced with unbuckling and carrying the child into the store while picking up some milk on the way home?

Heat-related child deaths inside cars is a big problem during hot summer days. In fact, according to, there have been almost 400 children who have died in hot cars in the last decade. On average, that’s 38 per year — or one every nine days.

In 2013 there were 44 reported deaths and as far as I know, 13 deaths as of the date of this post.

Many people just don’t appreciate how hot it can get inside a vehicle with the windows rolled up. For example, when the outside temperature is 80 degrees, inside the car it can skyrocket to 120 degrees within an hour.

In California, prosecutors have discretion to file criminal charges against the responsible adult. If an adult was drinking or under the influence of drugs, and because of this left a child in a hot car who suffered injuries or death, then most prosecutors would file criminal charges and seek jail time.

In cases where an adult has no prior offenses and, the injury or death was clearly a mistake, a majority of prosecutors will consider the incident a tragic accident and not file criminal charges. Each case is different and good prosecutors will look at the facts carefully before deciding whether or not to file charges.

In civil cases, an adult (neighbor, babysitter) can be held monetarily responsible for all harm and even the death of a child because of an adult’s negligent or other wrongful conduct.

Safety Tips:

• Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
• Put something you’ll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc., on the floor board in the back seat.
• Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind. This will soon become a habit.
• Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It’s a visual reminder.
• Make arrangements with your child’s day care center or babysitter that you will always call if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled.
• Keep vehicles locked at all times; even in the garage or driveway and always set your parking brake.
• Keys and/or remote openers should never be left within reach of children.
• Make sure all child passengers have left the vehicle after it is parked.
• When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.
• If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out as quickly as possible. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
• Be especially careful about keeping children safe in and around cars during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays.
• Use drive‐thru services when available. (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.)
• Use your debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.

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