Power windows in cars remain a silent, mostly unknown potential killer of children. The biggest problem is the type of switches used by U.S. auto manufacturers, as opposed to those commonly used by European and Japanese auto makers. The big three in the U.S. have typically used rocker or toggle type switches, while overseas manufacturers have typically used push up/push down switches. The other big problem is that unsafe switches can be made safe with the addition of auto reverse technology, but they are not. If used, the technology causes the window to reverse direction from up to down as soon as it contacts anything below "full up."
The use of unsafe switches and failure to use auto reverse technology has resulted in a number of childhood strangulation injuries and deaths. It can take as little as 22 pounds of pressure to injure or suffocate a child, while power window systems exert anywhere from 30 to 80 pounds of pressure when switches are activated. Inadvertent climbing in cars and other accidental activations have killed at least 50 children since 1990, and injured thousands of others. Non fatal injuries include anoxic brain injuries and extremity amputations.
As early as 1968, Ralph Nader urged the National Highway Safety Board to issue public advisory warnings to alert parents to the dangers of electric windows in cars. The Board rejected the request and little governmental intervention on the issue has occurred since. In 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced regulatory enhancements but they were only directed at accidental activation of power switches. Auto reverse technology is still not required, so injuries caused as a result of a child intentionally playing with the switches or the accidental activation by someone other than the child are not addressed.
Given the lack of regulatory oversight families are left to their own devices. There are two things to do: first, make sure every family member who is old enough is aware of the dangers and second, NEVER leave children young enough to not understand the dangers or who are unable to correct a potentially dangerous situation alone in a car. For more information on this critical safety issue, visit www.kidsandcars.org/power-windows.html.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.