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Is It Illegal to Leave Your Child or Dog in the Car in Texas? How Dangerous Is It?

During the hot summer, the media often spotlights the dangers of leaving living creatures in the car for even a short period of time. In summer 2015, one non-profit even did a hot-car challenge asking adults to spend 10 minutes in a hot car for $100. Out of 6 participants, none were able to stay in the car for 10 minutes.

It is never recommended to leave children or pets in a vehicle, particularly those who are unable to exit the vehicle on their own. But, you may be wondering if it is illegal to do so. Here is what you should know about the laws in Texas:

Leaving Children in Vehicles

It is illegal to leave a child in a motor vehicle without the presence of an adult, regardless of the time of year. Under Texas Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 22, Section 10, you are not allowed to leave a child in a vehicle for more than five minutes if you know:

  • The child is younger than 7 years old
  • The child is not accompanied by another person who is 14 years or older

The crime is considered a Class C misdemeanor and is also an act of neglectful supervision that Child Protective Services will investigate.

Leaving Pets in Vehicles

Texas does not have any statutes that currently make leaving a pet in a parked car or truck illegal. That does not mean individuals who do so will not be held accountable for their actions. Texas does have a general animal cruelty law that can be applicable in cases like this. Leaving a pet in a hot or cold car for an extended period of time can be considered an act of cruelty, which is punishable by jail time and a fine.

How Quickly Can a Vehicle Become a Dangerous Place?

The most dangerous aspect of leaving children and pets in vehicles is their inability to escape of their own accord. Within minutes, a child strapped into a car seat or a dog can be subject to scorching heat of 120 degrees or more. The inside of a car can become significantly hotter than the outside temperature, even if the windows are rolled down. The bottom line is you can never bet on the outside temperature or your attempt at hurrying to save you from being charged with neglect.

In 17 years, 650 children have died due to being neglected in a vehicle. Many of those deaths occurred in Texas. A body temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit can start damaging internal organs. Death can occur in as little as 20 minutes.

Pets are similarly affected. They can’t sweat to regulate their body temperatures the way humans can, and they can suffer from internal organ damage and heatstroke if body temperatures rise above 106. Leave your pet at home if you can’t bring it with you when you get into town.

What to Do if You See a Child or Animal Alone in a Hot Car

If you see a child or pet being affected by heat in a locked car and cannot quickly locate the parent/owner, you can do whatever you see fit to get that child or pet to safety without fear of legal reprisal. This is protected under the Good Samaritan Act. If you have your cellphone on you, call 911 immediately and let the dispatcher know about the situation and what you are doing.

Next, look for the parents or owner in local stores and inform local shop managers of the situation. Find water to rehydrate the child or animal and remain in a safe place until law enforcement and/or medical help arrives. If a loved one or pet has been injured, it is always a safe decision to contact a Houston personal injury attorney.