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THP urge motorists: Never leave children unattended in a vehicle

Posted on Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 11:19 am

The Tennessee Highway Patrol urges motorists to take extra precautions as temperatures rise throughout the summer months and never leave children or pets in an unattended vehicle.

On a typical sunny, summer day, experts say the temperature inside a car can reach potentially deadly levels within minutes. 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.

As of June 7, there have been at least three deaths of children in the United States due to hyperthermia. In 2011, there were at least 33 juvenile vehicular hyperthermia fatalities. In Tennessee, there have not been any hyperthermia-related deaths since 2010 (Source: San Francisco State University).

“There have already been three heat-related vehicular fatalities this year. We can prevent such tragedies by being vigilant and routinely making sure all occupants exit the vehicle when reaching your destination. Our goal is to prevent the senseless death of children who have been left in unattended vehicles,” said Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons.

“Even if it’s just for a few moments, motorists should never leave a child in an unattended vehicle,” said THP Colonel Tracy Trott. Cracking the window to let air in does little to protect children from the effects of heat buildup in a parked car. Those who fail to fulfill their responsibility to children face criminal prosecution.”

Only 19 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 six 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:

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 2-3 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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