Children Still At Risk: Power Window Rule Challenged By Consumer Auto And Child Safety Groups

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Debra Kubecka - 202-408-1711 x15
Thursday, October 21, 2004 Janette Fennell - 913-327-0013

POWER WINDOW RULE CHALLENGED BY CONSUMER, AUTO AND CHILD SAFETY GROUPS

THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION (NHTSA) NEEDS TO "GET IT RIGHT" AND IMPROVE ITS RECENT FINAL RULE TO PROTECT ALL CHILDREN

Washington, D.C., October 21, 2004. Eleven major consumer, auto and child safety groups (Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, KIDS AND CARS, Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, Consumers Union, 4RKidsSake, Kids in Cars, Public Citizen, Trauma Foundation, and the Zoie Foundation) today petitioned the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) to reconsider its final rule on power windows. The Petitioners assert that NHTSA only addressed part of the risk to children from power window switch activation and didn't take the actions necessary to stop deaths and injuries. This rule misleads consumers to believe that the problem of serious injury and death to children caught in power windows has been solved. It hasn't.

Every year several children are killed and hundreds more are injured when power windows close on the necks, heads, arms, and hands of unsuspecting children. All too often, children are left alone in vehicles with power windows that can still be operated. The result is that many are severely injured or killed when they trigger the power switch that closes a power window on themselves or another child, or an adult unwittingly closes the window on a child. This happens in three distinct ways: 1) when a child leans on or bumps against a rocker or toggle switch; 2) when a child who plays with a switch, pushes or pulls up on a power window switch; or, 3) when adults unintentionally close a power window on a child. The final rule minimally addresses only the first situation, accidental closings caused by a child who leans on a rocker or toggle switch.

The tragic result is that the new rule will not prevent all accidental or unintentional power window closings that cause serious injuries or deaths. Only power window auto-reverse systems can put an end to these tragic deaths and injuries.

Sadly, NHTSA's final rule does not require automatic reverse technology for all new passenger vehicles. Automatic reverse technology stops a power window from closing when a child is in harm's way. This requirement should be standard just like the federal government's mandated safety requirement on all garage doors that close automatically - they must reverse to prevent deaths and injuries. Power window auto reverse technology is included as standard equipment on 80% of European and many Japanese vehicles.

Safety groups urge NHTSA to provide a solution that protects all children in all circumstances when they are exposed to this danger. In a similar situation, the agency required fail-safe technology to be built into advanced airbags to protect children sitting in the front seat even though parents were warned to place children in the rear seats of their vehicles. The power window rule should be no different -- the safety fix is inexpensive, available, and already in use. Consumer groups estimate that installing automatic reverse technology would cost as little as $50 for four windows even before further cost reductions are achieved through mass production.

NHTSA's final rule also failed to ban unsafe rocker or toggle switches. The new part of the regulation only requires that after 2008 these types of dangerous switches must be recessed to reduce accidental actuation. NHTSA also weakened the final rule from its earlier, proposed version by enlarging the size of the test device to measure whether a switch can be accidentally engaged. That test device supposedly represents the size of a child's knee, but it clearly will not prevent accidental closings when children activate these switches with their elbows, fingers, or toes.
Founder and president of Kids And Cars, Janette Fennell, stated, "Last month NHTSA issued a media advisory stating that the agency was going to "announce a significant new life-saving protection for children". Unfortunately, after reviewing the final NHTSA rule about power windows, there was little that was significant, new, or lifesaving for America's children. I was deeply disappointed that despite the agency's fanfare they did not even ban rocker or toggle switches or require automatic reverse technology. NHTSA stopped far short of adequately solving the problem, and this decision will leave millions of children at risk."
The underlying power window safety standard relies on a flawed premise that there will always be adult supervision in or near the vehicle when the key is in the ignition. All too often, adults leave children alone in the vehicle with the key in the ignition and the power windows still operative. Although NHTSA acknowledges that this occurs, it did not re-evaluate and remove the flawed premise of the standard in the final rule.

"NHTSA's rule does not reflect real-world behavior where children are often left unattended in the vehicle and an adult is not immediately available to respond quickly when a child gets trapped because of a power window closing," said Judie Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "Even NHTSA admits that the problem of child injuries and deaths in power window closures will persist because of the flaws in the rule. It's like giving a child only half a dose of a vaccine and withholding the rest."

"Parents make mistakes -- but children should not have to pay for those mistakes with their lives. Auto reverse technology would cost even less than a new tire. Surely the life of a child is worth that," said Fennell.

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Click here for the complete petition and fact sheet.

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