By Benjamin Niolet
RALEIGH The House voted for a bill Monday that would make it a crime to leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
Currently, adults can be charged under child-abuse statues if children are left alone in unsafe conditions. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, makes it unlawful to leave a child under 9 alone in a car if a reasonable person would think the child is at risk. Leaving the engine running or keys in the car with a child would also be against the law.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would except drivers with a line of sight to the car. That means if someone runs into the dry cleaner but can see the car in the lot, it wouldn't apply, said Rep. Alice Graham Underhill, a New Bern Democrat and sponsor of the bill.
“This is if you go to the grocery store and stay there for an hour,” Underhill told House members.
First offenses would bring a warning. Second offenses would be misdemeanors. The bill would let judges send offenders to a class on the dangers of leaving a child in a car.
The bill is purposely lenient.
“It's just an effort to raise awareness,” Underhill said.
She sponsored a similar bill two years ago that cleared the House but did not make it through the Senate.
North Carolina would be the 16th state to have such a law, said Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, a Kansas nonprofit that advocates laws to discourage leaving children alone in cars.
Last year, 42 children in the United States died when they were left in hot cars.