Every year, about 38 children die from being left or forgotten in hot cars across the country, according to the advocacy group Kids and Cars. This summer, Virginia will have a new law to help prevent these deaths.
How often do passersby see a child left behind, locked in a hot car, but don't act, afraid of a lawsuit if they break them out?
"We've seen too many times that children are overheating in cars and dying and suffering other injuries," said Del. Chris Peace of Hanover.
Peace wants citizens to act. He just passed a law saying people cannot be held liable for damages for breaking into someone's car to rescue a child that's in danger.
"It's a great update to the Good Samaritan law, which will allow people, if they find a child in distress in a vehicle, to forcibly enter that vehicle to save that child's life," Peace said.
Here's how the law works: If you see a child who appears to be in danger in a hot car, you must first call 911 or some emergency personnel if you can. Then, if the vehicle is locked, you can break in to rescue the child and you cannot be held liable for the damages.
What about criminal charges, you might wonder? It was just two weeks ago that a veteran was arrested for breaking into a car in Georgia to rescue a dog. The charges were later dropped.
Peace says this new Good Samaritan law will not protect you from criminal charges. But Peace, a lawyer himself, says those charges are unlikely.
"I don't believe any Commonwealth's Attorney would pursue that knowing that the civil laws guarantee protections for civil liabilities," he said.
And you may be wondering, what about rescuing pets?
"That's probably next year's bill for someone," Peace said.
Like eight other states that recently passed a similar law, the new Virginia law applies to only to rescuing children, not pets.
"The question will be if it's good policy for Virginia to allow people to break into cars for saving a pet when it's harder to know whether that pet is really in danger," Peace said.
Meantime, Peace's new Good Samaritan provision takes effect July 1. Until then, citizens are urged to at least report seeing a child in a hot car.
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