NJ bill would increase penalties for leaving kids in hot vehicles
Since 1998, 631 children have died of heatstroke in the U.S. after being left unattended in a car, according to statistics compiled by the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Joe State University. More than half of the deaths were children under age 2.
Twenty-five kids have died this year alone.
"We certainly need to heighten awareness to everybody that we need to save the babies and beat the heat and check the back seat," said Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Jackson). "Although the heat is subsiding, heightening public awareness also increasing the penalties is necessary."
Under current New Jersey law, leaving child unattended in a car is a fourth degree child neglect crime for which there is no presumption of jail time. Under Dancer's bill, anyone who leaves a child, age 6 and under, alone in a vehicle would be subject to a $500 fine. If the child is injured, it would be a third degree crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
"If God forbid the child is seriously injured or dies it would be a second degree crime and a $150,000 fine and potentially 10 years behind bars," Dancer said.
According to the DMCS, a child hasn't died in New Jersey after being left in a car since 2008. The tragedy occurred in Atlantic City and the registered outdoor temperature at the time was 91 degrees. Since 1998, 12 Garden State kids have died after being left unattended in a vehicle.
"The most often given reason for leaving a child alone in a car is the parent or caregiver simply forgot that the child was in the back seat," Dancer said.
Currently only 20 states have laws specifically addressing the issue of leaving a child in a car unattended.