No More Hot Car Deaths: California Law To Give Bystander Right To Smash Car Windows to Free Pets From Locked Vehicles

The state of California is currently reviewing a law which could see then end of hot car deaths for pets by allowing bystanders to smash car windows and break out animals from vehicles that are either too hot or cold without the fear of facing a civil lawsuit.

The bill was brought before the state assembly on Tuesday by three California lawmakers with the title of Bill 797, or “The Right to Rescue Act.” The temperature inside of vehicles can be considerably different from that outside, and as summer approaches, the lawmakers actually put themselves through a rather grueling 21 minutes in order to prove the necessity of the power the bill would provide bystanders.

Assemblymembers Ling Ling Chang, Kristin Olsen, and Marc Steinorth, who were responsible for drafting the bill seeking to grant permission for persons to smash out car windows to save the life of a pet, locked themselves into a car last week for 21 minutes during a time when the temperature outside was a sweltering 89 degrees. They also filmed the whole ordeal. Steinorth spoke of the time spent in the hot car and days later he said it still affected him.

“I still don’t think I’m fully hydrated. All the time we hear about animals that are dying being trapped in hot cars. These owners, they just don’t realize how hot it can get, and I wanted to create legislation that enables us to be proactive.”

The Star Telegram reported on the “The Right to Rescue Act” by way of a tale through the experiences of Sharie Lesniak, who is the founder of, a website devoted to protecting dogs from being in overheating cars. Lesniak spoke of a time when she had called 911 due to a dog in distress in a hot car – and how the owners confronted her.

The new bill that the Californian Republicans brought forward would end the need for bystanders like Lesiak to wait on authorities and simply smash out the window of a hot car to rescue the animals in danger. Lesniak also spoke of the fragility which dogs have and exactly how much they suffer inside hot cars, stating that “a dog can go into organ failure and brain damage within 15 minutes. So it is something to know you can do something if they don’t get there in time.”

The state of California already has a law in place allowing bystanders to smash windows to rescue children, and it seems Marc Steinorth was inspired to Bill 797 by a similar law of protection in Tennessee. Dogs can overheat at a far more alarming pace than humans because they do not vent heat by sweating. Sometimes, even parking in the shade or cracking a window will simply do not prevent dangerous temperatures being reached inside the vehicle. The American Veterinary Medical Association reported that the temperature inside a car can change rapidly, and on a 70-degree day, the interior of the car can reach 89 degrees in 10 minutes and even climb up to 99 degrees after 20 minutes.

According to CBS Sacramento, back in 2014 Sacramento county saw the death of three dogs who died because of being locked in hot cars while a fourth barely survived. The cars had the windows cracked about an inch.

Some persons have expressed worry that others would use the law to take things too far and smash glasses at random, but Steinorth and his companions were clear about what cases would qualify for exemption from prosecution. To begin with, the bystander has to confirm that the car is actually locked and there is no other “reasonable method” to gain entrance to the car; the bystander must also believe that the dog is in immediate danger, and despite being able to smash out the window to prevent a hot car injury or death, the authorities still need to be contacted.

The office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney is co-sponsoring the bill and conferring the legitimacy of backing from law enforcement. The California “Right to Rescue Act” or Bill 797 also has the support of the Humane Society, and the Society introduced the bill during a rally held in Sacramento yesterday.

[Photo Courtesy of Karen Grigoryan/ Shutterstock]