When there’s a living being stuck inside a hot car on a sweltering day, sometimes desperate measures are necessary — helpful bystanders may have to break into that vehicle to save a child left behind, or even a pet. One state has now made these kinds of rescue efforts legal.
Under a new Colorado law [PDF] that goes into effect Aug. 9, people who are “rendering emergency assistance from a locked vehicle” will be “exempt from criminal and civil liability” for any property damage resulting from their forcible entry into that vehicle.
You should never leave a child or at-risk person in a locked car with the windows up, as temperatures can inside can rise quickly. Along with Colorado, 25 other states have laws that protect pets left in parked vehicles, according to a study by Michigan State.
There Are Some Conditions
You can’t just go shattering any window you want at will, however:
• The vehicle cannot be a law enforcement vehicle.
• The at-risk person or animal has to be inside it at the time — and if it is a non-human, the law only applies to cats or dogs. Sorry, livestock. Specifically: Cattle, horses, mules, burros, sheep, poultry, swine, llamas, and goats.
• Anyone breaking in must have a “reasonable belief that the at-risk person or animal is in imminent danger of death or suffering serious bodily injury.” You also have to check first if the car is locked, thus requiring forcible entry.
• Helpers must make a “reasonable effort” to find the owner or operator of the car, while documenting the color, make, model, license plate number, and location.
• Good samaritans are required to contact a local law enforcement agency — the fire department, animal contra, or 9-1-1. And if such an authority should show up, you can’t get in their way.
• Don’t use more force than reasonably necessary.
• Afterwards, the person rendering assistance has to remain with the person or animal, close to the vehicle, until law enforcement shows up.
• If you do have to leave the scene before the car’s owner and/or law enforcement arrive, you are required to put a notice on the windshield of the vehicle with your name and contact information and if you took the person or animal you saved somewhere else, where that location is.
You also need to call law enforcement and inform them that you’re leaving the scene, and provide contact information and details on the saved person or animal’s location.
“It was written to make sure there were common-sense steps,” Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, an author of the bill, told the Denver Post. “It was also to protect property owners so that people aren’t just breaking in because they’re angry.”