What is the Hot Cars Act?
Dan Levenson July 01, 2020
Every year, on average, 39 children under the age of 15 die after being left in a hot vehicle. Since 1990, 836 children have died. That is one child every nine days. Since 1998, at least one child has died in a hot car in every state in the nation.
In 2008, the unthinkable happened to one-year-old Chase Harrison. Chase had recently been adopted from Russia by Miles and Carol Harrison of Virginia. One day, Miles was supposed to drop Chase off at daycare but was worn out after driving back to Virginia from Ohio and forgot about the daycare. Instead, he drove directly to his workplace, locked his car and left Chase, a quiet boy, in the backseat.
A co-worker approached Harrison later in the day and asked if he had a doll in the back of his car. When Miles realized what he had done and saw his son through the car window, he was inconsolable. He could only cry, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” Chase had been adopted only three months before.
Miles was later tried on manslaughter charges but acquitted. The jury said Chase’s death was a horrible accident. To this day, Miles Harrison says that if his car had had a warning system, his son would still be alive. In 2012, Russia banned U.S. adoptions of Russian children because of Chase Harrison’s tragic death.
Since that awful day in Virginia 12 years ago, Miles Harrison has been urging members of Congress to pass the Hot Cars Act of 2019. This legislation would mandate that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) require that all new motor vehicles have a child safety alert system.
Such a system would detect the presence of an occupant, either a child or a domestic animal, in a vehicle’s rear designated seating position after the vehicle is turned off. The warning system would be located on the automobile’s dashboard and would flash and beep to get the driver’s attention.
The legislation also mandates that DOT consider requiring a warning system to detect the presence of an occupant unable to exit the vehicle on his own and to detect the presence of a child who has entered an unoccupied vehicle without the driver’s knowledge.
The Hot Cars Act states, too, that DOT must study the possibility of retrofitting existing motor vehicles with technology to warn drivers about occupants left unattended in their car.
In June, 2019, Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio introduced the latest House version of the legislation (H.R. 3593). The bill’s supporters argue that it is a vital and cost-effective safety measure that could save children’s lives, particularly considering that cars today come with warning systems for non-life-threatening events, such as a driver forgetting to buckle his seatbelt.
Opponents say that the bill would drive up costs while doing little to solve the problem of accidentally leaving children in hot cars. This is because the legislation’s targeted population, new parents, is not the demographic buying new cars. According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, “Each year, less than 13% of new car buyers have a child six years old or younger.”
In July, 2019, H.R 3593 was referred to the House’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. This is where it remains today. The bill has 55 cosponsors.
While Miles Harrison continues working for passage of the Hot Cars Act, he still struggles with the terrible mistake he made in 2008 and knows that he can never replace his son. He just hopes that the legislation he is supporting can help other children avoid the same fate as Chase.
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