Two hot car deaths in Phoenix last month made headlines. Concerned citizens will be happy to know that Governor Doug Ducey signed a law designed to protect people who break car windows in order to rescue people and pets left inside hot cars. However, it’s important to understand that HB 2494 doesn’t give you a blank check to go around smashing windows.

Existing laws already provide justification defense for certain situations where committing a would-be crime prevents a crime (including manslaughter) from taking place.  A similar principle applies in situations of self-defense, for example.

This law hones in on the specific situation of rescuing kids and animals from hot cars, in order to provide clarity. It protects you from civil litigation, not just criminal charges. To be protected by the law, you must first:

1. Have reason to believe a child or pet in a hot car is in imminent danger of death or serious injury. A baby cannot exit the vehicle on his own, but you might be able to communicate with a 10-year-old who is alert. Regardless of age, anyone showing signs of heat exhaustion would reasonably be considered in imminent danger.

2. Make sure the car is actually locked. If you can stage your rescue operation without breaking a window, do that. Don’t use more force than necessary to access the children or animals inside.

3. Call the police before you take action. Then, stay with the child or animal until authorities arrive. This is common sense. Most people concerned about child and animal welfare wouldn’t just leave a kid or dog alone in a parking lot. The key is to call before you break in so that authorities can arrive ASAP. They’ll respond to the medical emergency, and keep the peace when the vehicle’s owner arrives.