During an average summer, temperatures in Arizona can reach 105 degrees or higher. The temperatures inside vehicles can be significantly higher – posing a serious threat to the health and safety of trapped occupants. A child or pet stuck in a hot car could suffer fatal heat-related injuries. In 2018, 53 children suffered hot car deaths, according to the National Safety Council. This was the highest number of hot car child deaths on record. Arizona has more hot car deaths than most other states each year. Thirty-eight children have died in hot cars in Arizona since 1998. In 2017, state lawmakers passed a bill to help prevent hot car deaths.
What Is Arizona’s Hot Car Law?
In some hot car situations, witnesses and bystanders may not break into vehicles for fear of being liable for damages. Arizona House Bill 2494 aims to change that. It gives citizens in Arizona the right to use reasonable force to open a locked and unattended vehicle to save a minor or domestic animal from hot car injury or death. The Good Samaritan will not be financially liable for any property damage, as long as he or she obeyed the specifications of the hot car law.
- He or she has a good faith belief the child or animal is in imminent danger of physical injury or death unless removed from the car.
- He or she verifies the vehicle is locked and that no other way of removing the victim exists except to break into the vehicle.
- He or she notifies a peace officer, animal control agency or emergency medical responder before breaking into the vehicle.
- He or she does not use more force than is reasonably necessary to remove the victim from danger.
- He or she stays with the animal or child until the owner or operator of the motor vehicle returns.
Failing to obey any of these rules could make the individual liable for damages. Committing any unreasonable, unnecessary or intentional damage to the motor vehicle could also make the person liable to the vehicle owner. However, as long as someone has a good faith belief that the child or domestic animal could suffer serious injuries or die in the hot car, the civil courts will not hold that person responsible for vehicle damage, such as a broken window.
How To Prevent Hot Car Deaths in Arizona
As a guardian or pet owner, never leave your child or pet alone in a vehicle for any amount of time. Temperatures can climb inside hot vehicles quickly and cause irreparable damage. A 2018 Arizona State University study found that a car parked in the sun could reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees in one hour. At this temperature, human skin can sustain third-degree burn injuries. Allowing a child’s body temperature to increase too much can lead to hyperthermia – a condition that can be fatal. Children and pets are more vulnerable to heat than adults. A child or pet trapped in a hot car could suffer heatstroke, organ damage, brain damage and death.
To help you remember a child or pet in the car, leave something else you will not forget in the backseat, such as your wallet or house keys. When no one is in your car at home, keep it locked and the keys out of reach of children. Teach children that the car is not a place to play. Take extra precautions if you do something out of your normal routine, such as pick up your child from daycare when your spouse usually picks up the child. Avoid mental distractions while driving to improve the odds of remembering you have a pet or animal in the car with you.
If you see a child or domestic animal locked in a hot car in Arizona, say something. Call animal control services, paramedics or 911 and report the issue. The person you talk to will be able to walk you through the signs of hyperthermia, such as unconsciousness, red skin (red gums in a dog), vomiting and rapid breathing. If it appears the child or pet is in imminent danger and the vehicle is unattended, you have the right to use reasonable force to save victims from heat-related injuries or death without fear of liability for damages.