Three recent cases of children who died in hot cars over one weekend in Arkansas now have people wondering what the law says about this issue.
These are state laws, so the types of laws in place, level of enforcement, and severity of punishment varies from state to state.
Only 19 states have laws specifically addressing leaving children in cars, and Arkansas is not one of them. The remaining 31 states, including Arkansas, do not currently have any laws of this kind in place.
For Arkansas cases, according to a Washington County prosecutor, the people responsible can still potentially face charges, but there are no real laws in place that determine when and how.
The prosecutor said the most important thing to consider in these cases is intent.
Because there is no law about it, though, passersby may be more inclined to look the other way when they see a child alone in a car on a hot day for fear of getting in trouble if they were to break in and help the child or even call the police.
This year there have been at least twenty-three deaths of children due to heat stroke from being in hot vehicles, and the average is around 38 per year.
Circumstances include children being forgotten by their caregivers, children playing in unattended vehicles, and children being left in vehicles intentionally by an adult. Children that have died from vehicular hyperthermia in the United states have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years. More than half of the deaths are children under 2 years old.
There is another type of state law concerning unattended vehicles, but it’s not about children– it’s about pets. Fourteen states have a law like this in place, but Arkansas is not one of those, either.
It would be easy to assume that most states probably have neither law or both laws, but that isn’t the case. Ten of the fourteen states with vehicle laws concerning unattended pets do not have any laws in place concerning unattended children.
Some states do have laws pending that many hope will be approved and passed soon, and the hope is that the others will follow.
Regardless of what the law says, everyone should take proper care to assure that their child (or yes, even their pet) is as safe as possible, and even if you are unsure of the law in your area, reporting a suspicious or dangerous-looking situation is always better than ignoring it.