Highway Patrol Urges Citizens Never To Leave Children Or Pets Unattended In Vehicles

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) urges motorists to take extra precautions as temperatures rise this summer and never leave children or pets in unattended vehicles. Preliminary reports indicate that eight children have already died this year due to heatstroke. None of those fatalities were in Tennessee.  

“Our goal is to educate the public on the dangers of leaving children or pets unattended in vehicles. The consequences could be deadly. Citizens should call 9-1-1 immediately if they see a child, an elderly person or anyone left unattended in a hot vehicle,” THP Colonel Tracy Trott said. 

There were 44 heatstroke deaths involving children in the United States in 2013. Since 1998, the average number of child hyperthermia-related fatalities is 38 per year. Additionally, during a 15-year period, research shows that 52 percent of child vehicular heat stroke cases were due to caregivers’ neglect and 29 percent were because children were playing in unattended vehicles. (Source: San Francisco State University - http://www.ggweather.com/heat/) 

Experts say the temperature inside a car can reach potentially deadly levels within minutes on a typical sunny, summer day. The inside temperature can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes and nearly 30 degrees in 20 minutes. Cracking the window has little effect on inside vehicle temperatures. (Source: San Francisco State University - http://www.ggweather.com/heat/) 

Only 20 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 eight 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).

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) 

Motorists should also take precautions in the event of a break down on a highway, especially with children or elderly 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.


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