DENVER – The Colorado Legislature made a new law this year protecting people who break into hot cars to rescue at-risk people and animals, but you could still risk punishment if you do so, as summer will be more than halfway over before the law goes into effect.
Temperatures are expected to reach near-record-breaking levels across Colorado Tuesday. The forecast high in Denver is 95 degrees—just 2 degrees below the record high of 97 set in 2007.
At 95 degrees outside, it takes just 10 minutes for the inside temperature of a car to rise to 115 degrees even if the windows are cracked or the car is parked in the shade.
The new law protecting Good Samaritans sailed through the Legislature, garnering only four “no” votes total in the House and Senate before Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill in April.
But it carries a provision that says it won’t go into effect until Aug. 9 – the end of the 90-day period following the adjournment of the legislative session – so people could still risk a penalty if they break into a hot car before then.
Once the law goes into effect, there will be a checklist people have to fulfill in order to not be charged as well:
- The vehicle in question can’t be a law enforcement vehicle.
- An at-risk person or non-livestock animal has to be in the car, and the Good Samaritan must believe that person or animal is “in imminent danger of death or suffering serious bodily injury.
- The vehicle must be locked.
- The Good Samaritan must make a “reasonable effort” to find the vehicle’s owner and document the vehicle’s characteristics.
- The Good Samaritan must contact a law enforcement, fire, or animal control agency before they enter the vehicle.
- The Good Samaritan must not interfere with the duties or direction of a law enforcement agent or first responder.
- The Good Samaritan can’t use “more force than he or she believes is reasonably necessary.”
- The Good Samaritan must remain with the at-risk person or animal and near the vehicle until law enforcement or first responders arrive.
- If the Good Samaritan can’t stay at the scene until first responders or law enforcement arrive, they have to let the responders know and leave their contact information with the vehicle.
The law does not apply to livestock, the term of which the law covers: cattle, horses, mules, burros, sheep, poultry, swine, llamas and goats.
Once the law goes into effect, any person who breaks into a vehicle to rescue an at-risk person or animal, as prescribed by the law’s parameters, won’t be subject to any penalties.
People can currently face charges of criminal mischief, criminal trespass or criminal tampering involving property if a district attorney decides to pursue charges. They could also face civil liabilities from the vehicle’s owner.
Since the beginning of 2017, Denver Animal Protection has received at least 175 calls about dogs left inside of vehicles during extreme heat or cold.
In Denver, people who leave animals in hot cars face animal cruelty charges and a fine of up to $999 and a year in jail.
It’s also illegal for dogs to ride in pickup truck beds, as the hot metal and direct sunlight can burn and dehydrate animals.
Denver also requires all pets to have outdoor shelters if they stay outside, lest owners also face animal cruelty charges.
Anyone wanting to report unsafe car or outside conditions for animals is asked to call 311 or 720-913-1311 immediately.
If an at-risk person is left in a car, call 911.