It’s Florida. Under most circumstances, the weather here is fairly predictable. It varies from a brief period of comfortable to flat out blistering hot. It does not matter if it’s a considerably mild winter day or a brutally hot summer day - it’s illegal to leave vulnerable people or animals inside of cars.
In August of this year, Florida Governor Rick Scott passed a bill making it legal to break into locked vehicles to rescue vulnerable people such as children, the elderly, and disabled adults as well as pets believed to be in imminent danger of suffocation or other harm. This law was created in direct response to an increasing number of incidents of children and pets being left in hot cars.
Think about this. Cars can heat up quite quickly. Note that even on a beautiful day when the temperature outside is a pleasant 75 degrees and the windows are cracked or rolled down, a car’s internal temperature can rise to 100 degrees in just ten minutes. After 30 minutes this same car’s internal temperature can reach 120 degrees. This intense heat when dealing with Florida’s hot summer sun can lead to heat exhaustion or heat strokes. Sadly, heat strokes can lead to irreversible brain damage or death.
Lt. Josh Woods with the Hendry County Sheriff’s Department stated that “in 2016 alone, 30 children have died from being left unattended in vehicles, with three of these deaths being in Florida”. He went on to mention that “these deaths are not only tragic but they are preventable.” Lt. Woods asks the public to be alert and “if you see this please take action and call 911.”
Thanks to the “Unattended Persons and Animals in Motor Vehicles” House Bill 131, a person cannot be sued if certain guidelines are met. The law makes people who rescue vulnerable people or pets immune from civil liability for any damage the vehicle endures in the course of the rescue so long as the proper procedures occur.
Most Florida citizens agree that good Samaritans should not have to worry about legal repercussions when faced with the decision to save someone’s life or the life of a defenseless animal. HB 131 grants civil immunity for damage to the vehicle for a person who “enters a motor vehicle, by force or otherwise, for the purpose of removing a vulnerable person or domestic animal.”
Here’s what you need to know if you find yourself in a situation requiring a person or pet rescue. If you see an animal, a child or other vulnerable person unattended and inside of a vehicle, then it’s time to take action. First check and see if any door of the vehicle is unlocked. If not, call 9-1-1 or law enforcement before entering the vehicle or immediately after doing so. Try to use no more force than is necessary to break in. Finally, remain with the person or animal in a safe place until the first-responders arrive.
Douglas Morgan, City of LaBelle Animal Control Director, wants people to know that “he does not recommend leaving a pet inside of a car whether or not it is running.” He added that “pets should be left at home.” Morgan also noted that pets should be contained while riding inside or outside of a vehicle because many things could go wrong while driving with “loose” pets.
Morgan would also like the public to know that “dogs and cats do not sweat like humans.” In order for them to cool down their body temperatures they need to pant. When a dog or cat pants, they are trying to draw in cooler air while rapidly expelling hot air. However, panting is not effective when they are left in a closed vehicle because the air inside is hot, and with no ventilation, there is no accessibility to fresh and cooler air.
Remember to A.C.T. – Avoid leaving children in cars; Create reminders; Take Action and call 9-1-1. Look Before you Lock, a campaign by Parents Central, is an online resource site about child and vehicle safety. Kids and Cars (kidsandcars.org) is also another great informational website to get more information.