WASHINGTON – At least seven children have died nationwide in the past three months by getting strangled in automobile power windows, according to a Washington Post story released last week.
Until the recent surge in deaths, power windows were thought to be responsible for about two to four child deaths per year, a fraction of the 43,220 people killed annually in US traffic accidents.
Power windows, once primarily an option on expensive luxury cars, are now almost universal. Nearly 91 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States this year were equipped with power windows, according to Ward's Automotive. That trend and the onset of warm weather may be partly to blame for the recent spate of accidents, the Post reports.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has no rules governing power window safety and no formal way of tracking such accidents, despite examining the issue for several years. A spokesman said the agency plans to propose a rule requiring safer power windows in about a month, followed by a comment period and then a phase-in period for the industry to comply.
Safety advocates charge the auto industry and the government with dragging their feet in making relatively simple changes to reduce the danger.
The problem is primarily with US-made cars sold in the US market, which generally use "rocker" or toggle-style switches that can cause power windows to close inadvertently if someone leans on the switch.
Most Asian- and European-brand vehicles use a type of switch that has to be pulled upward to raise the window, making it difficult to trip it accidentally.
Most US-brand cars sold in Europe also offer such features, but are just beginning to offer the equipment in the domestic market. Ford Motor Co., for example, offers the safer-style switches on all Jaguars and Volvos, most Mazdas, Lincoln Navigators and Aviators and Ford Mustangs and Thunderbirds, a spokeswoman said.
The Senate has passed a highway authorization bill that requires automakers to make power windows safer and creates a government database to keep track of such deaths. The proposal is in conference with a House highway bill that does not contain such language.