United States

‘We Can Stop This': Hot Cars Act Aims to End Accidental Deaths of Children

Every summer, children die after their parents accidentally leave them in the back seats of hot cars.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives introduced the Hot Cars Act, which would require that cars be equipped with visual and audio alarms to remind drivers to check the back seat once a car has been turned off. The technology already exist, backers say.

"A simple alert could saves lives. 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," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois).

She introduced the bill at a news conference with Rep. Peter King (R-New York), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and the parents of victims.

Miles and Carol Harrison of Loudoun County, Virginia, went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to endorse the bill.

Their 21-month-old son, Chase, died in 2008 after Miles Harrison strapped the child into a car seat on a 90-degree day and accidentally left him there as he ran an errand, made phone calls and went to work, forgetting to drop off the recently adopted child at day care. Nine hours later, a coworker noticed the child's body in the parked SUV. 

Still grappling with grief every day, Miles Harrison said hot car alarm technology would have saved little Chase's life.

"If that that been around, with me, I know it would have changed -- my son would be here," Miles Harrison told News4, starting to cry. 

"We need to stop this. Parents like us, just normal parents, are in such agony, and we can stop this. And that's what this bill can do," he continued.

Nine years ago, Miles Harrison accidentally left his young son in a hot car, which led to the child's death. He spoke with News4 on Wednesday about how new legislation could prevent future tragedies.

For the past 12 years, Dr. David Diamond has studied the brain, memory and why parents accidentally leave children in hot cars. He said at a news conference Wednesday that two brain structures compete: those that control the ability to plan to do something in the future and those that follow "auto-pilot" habits. When people are stressed or sleep-deprived, the auto-pilot system can dominate.

"This phenomenon must be explained from a brain science perspective, not one that blames parents for being negligent," he said in a statement.

Miles Harrison said he still reads news coverage and online comments about his son's death and his own criminal trial; he was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in 2009.

"I read it to punish myself more. To this day, I am ashamed. I feel guilty. I feel that I have stolen something from our family and my wife," he said, his voice quavering.

More than 800 children have died from heatstroke in hot cars since 1990, KidsAndCars.org.

For information on myths about leaving children in cars and tips on how to prevent heatstroke, go here.

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