Spurred by tragedy, ‘Tristan’s Law’ seeks to make CT ice cream trucks safer [New Haven Register]

March 11, 2021

From the New Haven Register:

The parents of the 10-year-old Wallingford boy who was struck and killed last year by a car after buying ice cream are urging state legislators to pass a bill that would institute new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

During tearful testimony Monday to the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, the parents of Tristan Barhorst remembered their son as a “perfect soul” and said that passing the measure that they call “Tristan’s Law” could help to prevent similar tragedies.

“What’s really at stake here is that you have an opportunity to make sure that no other parent has to end each night sitting on an empty bed that no longer says good night back,” Tyler Barhorst, Tristan’s father, told the committee. “You have an opportunity to make sure that no other parent has to replay the image of losing their child every time they see an ice cream truck or the front end of a Jeep on the road.”

Christi Carrano, Tristan’s mother, narrated to the committee the events leading up to the tragedy. On the evening of June 12, 2020, Tristan went with his family to Cheshire for a backyard celebration of his father’s birthday hosted by friends. While desserts abounded at the party, an ice cream truck’s jingle proved irresistible for Tristan and other children at the gathering.

Tristan purchased one of his favorite treats, a SpongeBob SquarePants popsicle. As he rounded the ice cream mobile to cross the road, a Jeep driven by a 17-year-old approached the rear of the truck at about 40 miles per hour. While his father screamed from the front of the house for Tristan to stop, it was too late. The Jeep struck and killed Tristan. He was two months away from his 11th birthday.

The bill would require ice cream trucks to be equipped with signal lamps, a stop sign arm, a convex mirror and a front crossing arm. Among other provisions, it would generally mandate that drivers stop at least 10 feet away when the trucks were flashing their signal lights and extending their signal and crossing arms — and impose infractions on motorists who violated the new regulations.

At least three states — California, New Jersey and New York — and 21 local governments across 17 states have laws or ordinances concerning traffic safety around ice cream trucks, according to a report last year by the state Office of Legislative Research.

“It’s common sense to alert drivers that children are going to be in the area and to have a stop arm that extends from the vehicle,” Carrano said. “Many vehicles, including the one that sold ice cream to my son, had this stop arm in place already, but the (ice cream truck) driver chose not to use it because it was light out… The driver that passed the vehicle at 40 miles an hour was a teenager who was inexperienced and just didn’t recognize that children would be passing by the vehicle.”

The driver of the Jeep stayed on the scene and cooperated with police, according to the Cheshire Police Department.

“You have an opportunity to make sure that no sister will ever have to feel alone in a quiet house that was once filled with her brother’s laughter,” Barhorst said. “And you have an opportunity to make sure that no other driver on the road ever has to carry the pain of having struck a child coming from one of these trucks. And you have the opportunity to make sure that no more perfect little souls like Tristan are taken from this earth too soon.”

The Transportation Committee has not yet voted on the bill, but many members said that they wanted to take action.

“We ought to get this done as quickly as possible,” said state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, the committee’s new Senate chairman.

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, a ranking member of the committee, said that “the least we can do as a legislature is get this passed.”

The bill has garnered bipartisan support from other legislators not on the committee.

In jointly written testimony, state Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, and state Sen. Paul Cicarella, R-North Haven, suggested including a “temporary grandfather clause,” which would establish a grace period to allow ice cream trucks to keep operating while they made the required safety improvements.

“To be clear, temporarily grandfathered trucks should be subject to additional safety procedures while operating in our recommended grace period,” Fishbein and Cicarella wrote. “For an example, the committee might wish to consider conditional selling restrictions, like those imposed by city of Hartford ordinance §27-126, on the grandfathered trucks. Such provisions should expire when requisite safety mechanisms are installed or at the completion of the grace period, whichever comes first.”

Transportation Committee members’ few misgivings pertained only to technical points such as wording on the signal arms that would instruct drivers to stop and then go if it were safe.

“I’m surprised how many cars I see attempt to pass a school bus, so I am afraid that (the signs’ language) is asking the average motorist — who is not as conscientious as I would hope we would all be — to not act at all,” said state Rep. Stephanie Thomas, D-Norwalk. “Is there any reason we can’t do something that motorists are more used to seeing like ‘Stop, proceed with caution’? I’m fearful that that language (in the bill’s current version) will create more confusion than compliance.”

Carrano said that she also wanted to see the bill incorporate such changes.

“This legislation proposes (vehicles) to stop (and) if safe, then go. It’s not an extended period of time. It’s not for the duration of the vending,” Carrano said. “It is to ensure that vehicles are not passing at 40 miles per hour — which was the speed my son was struck at on a 25-mile-an-hour road. That’s opposed to going by five miles per hour, which is what the legislation proposes, so that there is a greater ability to react to what you perceive in front of you.”