On the morning of March 30, 2007, I was positive that I had dropped off my son, Bryce, at his babysitter’s house. I did not learn until later that afternoon when the babysitter called that he was not with her. My son died after being left in my car all day. The high that day was only 66 degrees, but that was enough. He died, and was only 9 months old.
It was the worst day of our lives, and I have replayed it in my mind a million times, trying to understand how this happened, and why I missed the right turn to drop off Bryce that morning. My morning routine was unusual, with the smallest things throwing it off: I had hardly slept in days. My son had a cold and was up all night. The car seat was in a different place, and the diaper bag was in the back seat of the car instead of the front next to my handbag because I had driven my husband to work. A work emergency came up. But that was enough. The pain of losing Bryce has never left me, and never will. It’s something I have learned to live with, and it’s why I feel a duty to help ensure no family goes through what we have. That’s why we work with KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit that advocates for consumer protections that promote child safety in or around cars. For more than a decade, they have waded through miles of red tape to get our government to act and address dangerous engineering oversights in power windows and gearshifts that cause preventable deaths, and fought to increase rear visibility to prevent small children from being backed over. The organization has also championed bills like the HOT CARS Act — which unanimously passed the House last Wednesday — that would help prevent tragedies like the one we faced. Working on this issue has given us a unique understanding of the way Washington works. We’ve learned that protecting our children requires much more than just taking the fight to Congress, passing a bill, and getting it signed into law. Even after the HOT CARS Act is passed and signed into law, we’ll still have a long way to go, working to ensure that federal agencies follow through.
In some cases, just working the system hasn’t been enough. For example, in 2011, Congress passed a bill requiring cameras or backup warning devices on all new vehicles to help prevent children from being backed over. Yet the government didn’t act, forcing KidsAndCars.org to sue the Department of Transportation to release the standard. Everyone knows that government processes can move slowly at times, but when it comes to our kids’ safety, it shouldn’t. It took 16 years to get the government to require seat belts, and 21 years to require airbags. That’s how difficult it is to get something done in Washington. But a new bill in Congress would slow the government to a standstill. Under the pretext of “reform,” a bill called the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) would add a jumbled web of additional bureaucracy to implementing these life-saving protections. It’s a recipe of more red tape and additional layers of bureaucracy that will make it more difficult to complete an already-complex process meant to protect our health and safety. It would stop life-saving bills from ever taking effect. It puts consumer protections across the board at risk, from vehicle safety to bans on dangerous chemicals, to workers’ protections and food safety. On behalf of families like ours that have faced unimaginable tragedy, and those who narrowly avoided it because of the protections we’ve worked for, I urge Congress to reject the RAA. We should be doing whatever we can to protect our kids — not paralyzing the process with red tape. Our kids deserve better.
Raelyn Balfour, an Army veteran from Earlysville, lost her son Bryce in 2007, and has worked with KidsAndCars.org since then to enact strong car safety laws and protect children.