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Child-Car Safety Measures Needed in Wake of Two Recent Strangulations

Thursday, April 8, 2004
Sally Greenberg, CU, (202) 462-6262
Janette Fennell, Kids and Cars, (913) 327-0013

Groups Push for Child-Car Safety Measures in Wake of Two Recent Strangulations of Children in Power Window Incidents

(Washington, D.C.) – In the wake of a second strangulation of a child in the past week in an automobile’s power window, Consumers Union and Kids and Cars continued to call on Congress to adopt legislation already approved by the full Senate to address the hazards to children in and around cars.
“We have the technology to prevent these deaths, yet some automakers aren’t using it, and worse, the government isn’t requiring them to use it,” said R. David Pittle, senior vice president for technical policy for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. “No more children or their families should suffer from these terrible tragedies.”
The groups are asking Congress to adopt measures in S. 1072, the transportation bill passed by the Senate in February, that would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to address the growing hazards of children in and around cars – specifically, child strangulations in power windows and backover deaths. The House passed its transportation bill last week without these two key provisions.
The Senate bill would close the power window “loophole” so that automakers no longer can install unsafe window switches, as they continue to do even in some 2004 models. The vast majority of European and Japanese manufacturers’ window switches feature the safer design that prevents child strangulations. The Senate measure also would require NHTSA to evaluate backup warning devices to see which are most effective in detecting small children behind cars.
“Installing much safer pull-up/push-down switches is inexpensive, and only requires a minimal one-time assembly line modification. And it’s the right thing to do,” said Janette Fennell, founder of Kids And Cars, a child-car safety advocacy group. “If Detroit-based auto makers standardized all of their power window switches to this type they would save money and save the lives of children.”
The latest incidents include:
● A 6-year-old boy in Albion, Wis., was strangled in a car window on April 7. According to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, the child and his three siblings were in the backseat of their parents’ 1996 Ford Taurus when the parents went inside an office to fill out a job application. A 2-year-old crawled into the driver’s seat and activated the rear window control, trapping the neck of the 6-year-old between the window and doorframe.
● A 3-year-old Delphi, Ind., girl was strangled to death March 30, when she got out of her seatbelt and inadvertently raised the power window in her mother’s car while her mother ran into a friend’s house. The mother returned to find her daughter’s neck caught in the car’s window, according to press accounts.
Fennell said at least eight children have been strangled in the past 23 months in power window incidents. The federal government has the authority to track these “non-traffic, non-crash” incidents but declines to do so.
Last year, 72 children were backed over and killed, often by relatives in their own driveways, according to Kids And Cars. As vehicles get larger and longer, it is becoming more difficult for drivers to see small children behind their cars.
“Now is the time to act to prevent any more unnecessary deaths of children,” Pittle said. “This is a senseless loss of life. We urge NHTSA to support these measures, and Congress to pass this legislation, to help save our children’s lives.”
For more information or to read our testimony, go to www.consumersunion.org and www.kidsandcars.org.