Tennessee Highway Patrol Reminds Motorists To Never Leave Children In Unattended Vehicles

Monday, June 10, 2013

In just the first six months of this year, 10 children have lost their lives in the United States due to hyperthermia. That’s why the Tennessee Highway Patrol is educating the public on the dangers of leaving children in unattended vehicles. State Troopers are urging motorists to take extra precautions as temperatures rise throughout the summer months.

In 2012, there were 32 juvenile vehicular hyperthermia fatalities nationwide. Of that figure, five of the hyperthermia-related deaths were in Tennessee. Those deaths occurred in Nashville (8/7/12), Smyrna (8/2/12) and Cleveland, Tennessee (6/28/12). (Source: San Francisco State University)

“Heat can build up in a vehicle in a matter of minutes, and can cause sickness or worse, death, to children and pets.  Motorists should routinely make sure all occupants exit the vehicle whenever reaching a destination. Any negligence could lead to the loss of a loved one, as well as jail time or severe penalties,” THP Colonel Tracy Trott said.

Experts say the temperature inside a car can reach potentially deadly levels within minutes on a typical sunny, summer day. Even cool temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature to rise well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit inside a vehicle. The inside temperature can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes. On a mild day at 73 degrees outside, an SUV can heat up 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. 

During a 13-year period (1998-2012), the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University states that 52 percent of child vehicular heat stroke cases were due to children forgotten by caregivers and 29 percent were because children were playing in unattended vehicles. 

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 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 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. 

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