As we get into the hottest part of summer, with high temperatures soaring into the upper 90s, it’s time to think about the impact heat can have in a closed vehicle — especially on kids.
Leaving children alone in a car can spell danger, and in some cases is illegal, even when heat is not a factor.
Unfortunately, in the past three weeks, the Lufkin Police Department has responded to two calls of children left in vehicles — one in which the vehicle was left running with children too young to be left alone and one in which the children were old enough to be left alone but the vehicle was not left running, according to a press release from LPD public relations specialist Jessica Pebsworth. The department cannot disclose details about those incidents due to the Texas Family Code, but citations were written to each of those parents or guardians.
Since 2015, Lufkin police have written nine citations for leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.
As such, the department has asked us to remind everyone to not leave children (or fur babies) in a hot vehicle — temperatures can rise to deadly levels quickly. Additionally, leaving a child who is too young in the car (whether its running or not, weather aside) creates safety issues. A thief could break in to steal the vehicle, not see the child and take them in process. Or the child could get out of the vehicle and get run over or abducted in the parking lot. The scenarios go on and on.
A child must be at least 7 years old to be left unattended in a vehicle, according to the Texas Penal Code. They can be younger than that if they are being supervised by someone who is at least 14 years of age.
The charge — leaving a child unattended — is a Class C misdemeanor. Doing so is also considered “neglectful supervision” and subject to Child Protective Services investigation.
For those of you who are worried about exposing your children to COVID-19 in businesses and stores, leave your kids at home, get a sitter or plan your trip for a time you won’t have them.
If you care for children, whether regularly or occasionally, there are scenarios which easily could occur:
■ A parent with too much on his or her mind in a quiet car might forget to drop off a sleeping baby with the child care provider.
■ An open car or trunk could look like an ideal spot for hide-and-go-seek for a 5-year-old.
■ Running into a store for “just a second” might seem harmless while a child buckled into his seat waits in the car.
All three situations potentially are deadly.
More than 800 kids who were left unattended in cars have died of child heat stroke since 1998. If a child is left inside a car or is trapped while playing in a car, they can suffer heat exhaustion, heat stroke or death in only minutes.
Temp. Temp. in car Time needed to reach
75 100 10 minutes
75 120 30 minutes
85 90 5 minutes
85 100 7-8 minutes
100 140 15 minutes
Source: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
The third scenario, leaving a child in a running car, could lead to several possible outcomes, and possibly a criminal charge. And if the child gets hurt, the charge would become a felony of child endangerment and is punishable by six months to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
In an effort to protect children, and avoid potentially deadly situations, the Department of Family and Protective Services offered these tips:
■ Never leave your car keys where children can get them.
■ Keep car doors and trunks locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway.
■ Teach children not to play in or around cars.
■ Never leave your child unattended in a car, even if the windows are down and a windshield shade is in place, or even just to run a quick errand.
■ Make sure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination.
■ Don’t overlook sleeping infants!
■ If your child does get locked inside a car, get him or her out as soon as possible. If you can’t get him or her out yourself, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.