Bill aims to prevent kids from being left in hot cars

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) – Miles Harrison’s son Chase was 21 months old when he died.

“A colleague came into my office and said ‘Hey, do you have a doll in your car?'”

In an instant, Harrison realized he forgot to drop off Chase at daycare. The little boy had been buckled into his car seat all day long.

“I ripped open the car door and pulled him from the car seat, unaware of anyone else around, and ran into the office with him in my arms, screaming and crying and calling out for help,” Harrison recalled.

Now, safety groups, families, and lawmakers are calling on the Secretary of Transportation to require all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with a system to alert drivers when a passenger is left in the back seat.

The Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats (HOT CARS) Act of 2017 is the result of hundreds of families’ heartache.

More than 800 children have died from heatstroke in hot vehicles since 1990, according to the nonprofit KidsAndCars.org.

Norman Collins’ grandson was three months old when he was accidentally left in the backseat of his parents’ car in a church parking lot in Mississippi.

“The thought of Bishop being buckled in his car seat, crying relentlessly, sweating profusely, seizing uncontrollably, and extending his little arms for help with no one to attend to him, at times, is simply too much to bear,” he said.

The families who shared their stories at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C. believe an alert system would have saved their children.

“A simple alert could save lives,” said Rep. Jan Schakowky, D-Illinois, a chief sponsor of the HOT CARS Act. “You get a warning when you leave the keys in the car. You should get a warning if you leave a child in the car.”

The HOT CARS Act calls for an alert system in all passenger vehicles that drivers could hear and see. It has wide support from several groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Safety Council.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said the technology is already available in some 2018 models.

“This is about saving kids’ lives, period,” Ryan said. “There is no reason why the United States government, our Department of Transportation, can’t require the industry to make this available on every car.”

Fifty-five percent of children who died in hot cars were unknowingly left in the vehicle, according to KidsAndCars.org. Twenty-eight percent got into the vehicle on their own.

“Too many children have been lost and families devastated due to vehicular heatstroke,” Rep. Jim Langevin, D-Rhode Island, said in an email. “I applaud my colleagues for seeking a solution to this critical safety issue and I look forward to further reviewing this legislation.”

A spokesperson for Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, said in an email that the congressman is supportive of measures to keep kids safe, adding “this bill is a common sense solution for a problem that impacts children and families across our nation.”

“I cry every day for Chase,” Harrison added. “I still have not forgiven myself and I don’t know if I have the capacity to do so.”

But in his son’s memory, Harrison has vowed to continue to fight for awareness and safety improvements.