Rep. Israel's bill empowers Good Samaritans to take action and save vulnerable Texans from eminent danger on hot summer days
Austin - Beginning Friday, bystanders will be able to take action to rescue children, the elderly, and disabled adults trapped in hot cars without fear of being sued for property damage.
"HB 478 allows Good Samaritans to be proactive about saving lives when every second counts," Israel said, noting that even on a 90 degree day, the temperature inside a car with all the windows rolled up can rise as high as 116 degrees in less than ten minutes. "This is especially important for young children, who are vulnerable to heatstroke and cannot exit vehicles on their own. "
Although leaving a child under seven years of age alone in a car for more than five minutes has long been a Class C Misdemeanor, HB 478, passed in the 85th Regular Session, will provide civil immunity to people who break into vehicles to rescue children who are in harm's way, as long as they follow these steps:
• First, the rescuer must have a good faith belief that the child or person is in imminent danger of suffering bodily harm unless they are removed from the vehicle.
• Second, the rescuer must confirm that the vehicle is locked and that any rescue requires forcible entry.
• Third, the rescuer must dial 911 or animal control before breaking into the vehicle.
• Fourth, the rescuer must remain with the child or vulnerable person once they have been removed from danger until law enforcement or a first responder arrives.
Since 1998, 107 children, including seven in 2016 alone, have died from vehicular heatstroke in Texas, making it the state with the highest rate of vehicular heatstroke in the country. On September 1, Texas will finally join 34 other states with similar measures, when HB 478 becomes effective.
According to Carlee McConnell, Injury Prevention and Safe Kids Austin Coordinator at Dell Children's Medical Center, heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths among children, often because parents forget their child is in the backseat.
"We recommend that parents leave reminders in the back seat, like their cell phone or purse, to help them remember to check when they get to their destination," she said, adding that this new law will add additional protections. "Just like it takes a community to raise a child, it also takes a community to keep them safe. Hopefully, together, we can prevent child vehicular heatstroke deaths."