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Power Car Windows Can Strangle

by By Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY

USA Today
Thursday, May 23, 2002

Safety advocates will call on automakers and regulators today to change power windows in cars to reduce the risk of strangling children.

The effort is part of a series of actions being taken to help protect children from non-crash risks in and around cars, which have killed 108 children since the beginning of 2001. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this week issued its first report on non-crash risks, including power windows. The Centers for Disease Control will release a report on the subject this summer. Automakers and others also are developing and selling safety technology to prevent many of the deaths and injuries.

Kids 'N Cars, an outgrowth of the effort to require releases inside trunks, says it knows of nearly 50 children killed by power windows since 1985. All power windows must pass a federal test requiring them to stop if they hit a rod simulating a finger, but Kids 'N Cars and federal regulators say that may not be enough to prevent a strangulation. Some power windows, mostly on luxury models, have a feature that causes a closing window to go back down if it hits an object. Kids 'N Cars also would like to see automakers required to use window switches that must be pulled up rather than pushed down.

Zoie Gates of Anthony, Kan., was 2 when she was strangled in the window of her father's new Ford pickup last August. Gates' father left her in the car with the radio on to nap while he worked nearby. She was reaching out to pet a dog and raised the window by pushing on the switch with her knee, he says.

NHTSA rulemaking chief Stephen Kratzke says that until the agency compiled non-crash data using death certificates, it had no evidence that different switches or auto reverse ?" which could cost $100 a car ?" would have any safety benefit. NHTSA found four deaths attributable to power windows in 1997 and is gathering data for 1998.

Automakers stress that safety locks, in most cars, can be used to prevent anyone but the driver from operating power windows. Many vehicles also already have the switches that must be raised to operate power windows.

Kids 'N Cars also will warn about heat in cars and backing over children in driveways. General Motors is working on technology that sounds an alarm if the interior of a car reaches a dangerous temperature when a person is inside. Ford is developing a device that can detect the presence of a heartbeat in the car and signal a driver after he or she has walked away.

Kids 'N Cars co-founder Janette Fennell says three NASA engineers developed similar technology after a colleague's infant son died when he was left in the car instead of taken to day care. With it, a sensor in a child seat sets off an alarm on a driver's key ring if a child is in the seat when the driver walks away.

Alarms that alert drivers about to back into a person, pet or object are available on many new cars and sold separately. American Dealer Services offers Bak-Talk, which gives an alert in either English or Spanish if a driver is close to backing into something.

On the Net: http://www.kidsncars.org

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