In March of this year, a three-year-old girl in Ville Platte, Louisiana was found dead in her mother’s car after being left there alone for an unknown period. Tragedies like this are all too common – and completely preventable - here in Louisiana and across the country. According to the national safety organization KidsAndCars, Louisiana has had 30 vehicular heatstroke deaths since 1993 and is one of the top 10 states for children dying in hot cars. The average yearly number of deaths in hot cars since 1998 has been 37, according to the National Safety Council.
It is a Crime to Leave a Child Unattended in a Car in Louisiana
Leaving a child alone in a car in Louisiana not only can lead to tragic consequences, it can also result in serious criminal charges, regardless of the temperature or whether the child suffered any injuries. Louisiana is one of 18 states that has a specific law making it a crime to leave a child unattended in a vehicle under some circumstances. Specifically, LA Rev Stat § 32:295.3 makes it unlawful for any driver or operator to leave a child or children under the age of six years unattended and unsupervised in a motor vehicle. The term "unattended" as used in this law means a child who has been left in a motor vehicle when the driver or operator of the vehicle is more than ten feet from the vehicle and unable to continuously observe the child. “Unsupervised" means an unattended child when a person ten years of age or older is not physically present in the motor vehicle. This means that quickly ducking into a store while your child is in your car in the parking lot can be a crime, whether you are in there for one hour or one minute. Even with cracked windows, the temperature inside a car sitting in direct sunlight can reach 125 degrees in just a few minutes. In fact, 80% of the increase in temperature happens in the first 10 minutes. A first conviction for violating § 32:295.3 can result in a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail. A second and subsequent conviction, however, will result in a minimum of one year behind bars and a fine of up to $2000. Of course, if the child is injured or dies as a result of being left unattended in a car, you could be charged with additional, and much more serious, offenses such as child endangerment or manslaughter.
Of course, many of the tragedies involving kids left in hot cars are the result of a parent’s distraction or forgetfulness, though that does not preclude criminal charges. KidsAndCars recommends that parents and caregivers follow a number of safety tips to prevent these incidents, including:
Never leave children alone in or around cars.
“Look Before You Lock” - Get in the habit of always opening the back door to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle.
Put something you need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc., in the back seat so that you have to open the back door to retrieve that item every time you park.
Keep a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat. When the child is placed in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It's a visual reminder that the child is in the back seat.
Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways or garages.
Be especially careful during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays.