Sept. 13, 2004
Simple Power Window Fix Finally Addressed by NHTSA,
But Long Lead Times Unnecessary
Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook*
Today’s announcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of a new final rule to make vehicle power windows safer for small children is very welcome news. Since 1990, at least 37 children, most age 3 and under, have been killed by power windows, and thousands of others have been injured. Faulty window switch designs and the absence of auto reverse systems that stop the window from moving when it encounters pressure have needlessly endangered children by allowing accidentally depressed rocker or toggle switches to cause the windows to rise rapidly, strangling children in mere seconds.
It will cost U.S. auto manufacturers just pennies per vehicle to install new switches to fix this horrific hazard – as a one-time expense on factory assembly lines – yet for years they have cruelly refused to install safer window switches in American vehicles even though they are used in their European-sold models. European and Japanese manufacturers have installed safer switches for vehicles sold in the United States since the early 1990s. For just about $8, manufacturers could install auto reverse systems, which now are in about 80 percent of European models but only about 10 percent of vehicles made by Detroit-based companies. NHTSA should have made this mandatory in its standard.
While NHTSA’s latest action is long-awaited, it still allows far too much delay for this simple fix, giving the manufacturers four years, until model year 2009, or two years longer than the deadlines contained in the NHTSA reauthorization bill passed by the full Senate last spring (S. 1072). Because of this recalcitrance, the most helpless among us will remain at risk for a decade or more until the current models are off the road, and families will continue to suffer from these terrible incidents. NHTSA should require all manufacturers of vehicles with these dangerous switches to notify owners of the hazard.
As NHTSA Administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge says in the agency’s press release, consumer and parent organizations were very important in getting NHTSA to address this issue. Other pressure has come from the pending congressional legislation and media attention on these totally unnecessary deaths. Safety advocates, including Kids and Cars, brought these hazards to light at the beginning of the Bush administration, filed a petition a year ago to prompt action and worked closely with U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) to pass the Senate bill. That bill contains many other crucial measures with firm deadlines to assist NHTSA, including requirements for specific data collection on incidents involving children in and around non-moving vehicles, rollover safety standards, vehicle compatibility measures and other important safeguards.
*Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook served as head of the National HighwayTraffic Safety Administration from 1977-81