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Children Killed by Power Windows

In 1988, fewer than 50 per cent of new cars sold in the US had power windows.  According to Ward’s Automotive, in 2009, nearly 91 percent of all new vehicles sold in the US have them.  And as this feature has become more commonplace, the risks have materialized: since 1990, power windows reportedly have killed at least 50 children and inflicted brain injury and finger amputations on a large number of others—most aged three years or younger.
 
In 1988, fewer than 50 per cent of new cars sold in the US had power windows.  According to Ward’s Automotive, in 2009, nearly 91 percent of all new vehicles sold in the US have them.  And as this feature has become more commonplace, the risks have materialized: since 1990, power windows reportedly have killed at least 50 children and inflicted brain injury and finger amputations on a large number of others—most aged three years or younger.
 
 KidsAndCars.org, a US national non-profit organization dedicated to assuring that “no child dies or is injured in a non-traffic, motor vehicle related event” has studied and advocated for mandated change in power window design and operation.  It first tackled the issue of switch design.  Now all vehicles manufactured after October 1, 2010 must have “pull up to close” window switches, a ‘fix’ that is expected to help reduce injuries caused by inadvertent activation of the switch.  Its focus now is on mandating automatic reversing systems (ARS)—similar to the proven technology in garage doors and elevators—for all vehicle power windows of any type in all vehicles sold in the US.
 
In early November 2009, KidsAndCars.org released results from national polls conducted in October 2009 concerning power window injuries.  The Harris Interactive poll found that:
 
  • More than 13 million US adults had injured someone they knew by closing a car window.
  • Over 22 million US adults had been personally injured or knew someone who had been personally injured by someone else closing a car window.
  • Over 10 million US adults had been personally injured by someone else closing a car window, but had not sought medical care and thus were not included in any government data collection efforts.
 
These poll results differed dramatically from a 2007 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimating that each year 2,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to power windows, half of those being children.  In 2009, the NHTSA studied whether or not to require ARS technology.  Based on its research, NHTSA decided ARS was not necessary except on one-touch closing systems.
 
KidsAndCars.org, on the other hand, believing that the NHTSA data greatly underestimates the number of injuries caused by power windows each year strongly advocates for it.  It notes that ARS technology: has been available in the market since the mid-1980s; has matured significantly in performance and price—the NHTSA has said they believe it would cost approximately $6 per window to add ARS to vehicles; and is available in approximately 80 percent of European models.
 
KidsAndCars argues that this fix is more needed now than ever to address third-party accidents, which occur when a driver operating the switch cannot see rear-seat passengers.  As distracted driving becomes an escalating problem, drivers may take longer to respond, causing further injury to a trapped passenger.
 
Serious problem?  Yes. Easy technical (garage door type) solution? Yes.
 

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