Five states act to promote rescue of kids, animals in vehicles

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, August 18, 2017

Steps are being taken at statehouses across the country to protect truck drivers and other good Samaritans from possible legal repercussions when they step in to provide aid to distressed animals or people in parked vehicles.

Vehicles parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures of 131 to 172 degrees when outside temperatures range from 80-100 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Outside temperatures in the 60s can cause internal temps to rise above 110 degrees.

There are at least 23 states with laws that regulate leaving an animal in a parked vehicle. Rules in at least 24 states make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle.

Fourteen states now have Samaritan laws specific to rescuing children left in vehicles: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Nine states – Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin – include animals in the rules.

The most recent state to act is Oregon. Already in effect, the new law covers efforts to break into vehicles to aid unattended children or pets.

Samaritans would be required to contact law enforcement before, or “as soon as is reasonably practicable after,” entering the vehicle. The acting individual would also be able to leave the scene after the vehicle owner or driver returns.

Colorado joined the list of states to implement rules to protect concerned citizens who take action to help a person or animal locked in a vehicle.

Effective Aug. 9, the new law shields from criminal or civil liability anyone who has “a reasonable belief” that children, at-risk adults, or dogs or cats are in imminent danger.

“These crucial seconds in which a passerby stops to consider the threat of a lawsuit could mean death for an infant or puppy trapped in a dangerously hot car,” stated Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins. “These situations should never happen, but they do.”

Before acting, people are required to take steps that include confirming the vehicle is locked, attempting to contact the vehicle owner, and contacting law enforcement.

A new law in Indiana permits people to rescue animals in hot vehicles without the possibility of being charged with property damage.

After notifying law enforcement, the person is authorized to use a reasonable amount of force to remove the animal. Samaritans would also be required to wait at the scene until an officer arrives.

The rescuer, however, would be responsible for paying up to 50 percent of the cost of the damage. The vehicle owner could opt to waive those costs.

Arizona’s new law provides lawsuit protections for people who break into vehicles to rescue children or pets. Specifically, the person would be protected from civil liability if a “good faith belief” exists that the child or pet is in eminent danger of injury or death.

“We are protecting good Samaritans who take action to save a child or pet and sending a signal that breaking a car window should be the last consideration when someone’s life is on the line,” Gov. Doug Ducey said in remarks at the bill signing.

Before acting, citizens are required to notify law enforcement or emergency personnel. After acting, the Samaritan is required to stay with the child or pet until authorities arrive.

As of Sept. 1 in Texas, state law will be updated to allow Samaritans to rescue “vulnerable” individuals from locked vehicles without concern of legal repercussions. Before any rescue, acting individuals would need to take steps that include confirming the vehicle is locked and contacting law enforcement.

Similar efforts remain active in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania statehouses.

In the Garden State, two bills halfway through the Legislature would grant immunity to concerned citizens who break into a locked vehicle to save a person or pet from extreme temperatures. The bills do not specify temperatures or conditions in order for a person to act.

The Pennsylvania House unanimously approved a bill that focuses on children. Citizens preparing to take action must first take steps that include confirming the vehicle is locked and attempting to contact law enforcement.

“My bill will encourage passers-by to take a second look, contact law enforcement, and step in to help when necessary,” wrote Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake.

The bill, HB1152, is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

One related bill also halfway through the statehouse covers rescue efforts for animals.

HB1216 would permit emergency personnel including firefighters, police or humane officers to rescue a dog or cat in “imminent danger” of harm. The pet’s owner could also face fines of up to $300 or up to 90 days in jail.

The bill is in the Senate Judiciary Committee. House lawmakers already approved it by unanimous consent.

Two Idaho state lawmakers are getting a jumpstart on legislative work for next year. Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, and Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, have announced intentions to pursue legislation in 2018 to protect good Samaritans who act to help a child stuck in a hot vehicle.

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