Safety groups say automakers must make power windows safer

Tuesday, August 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Power windows that can trap small hands and heads have led to at least 23 deaths in the last decade, according to consumer advocates who want U.S. automakers to install devices that will keep kids safe.

Kids and Cars, Public Citizen and others are launching a campaign Tuesday for window switches that are harder for children to hit accidentally and windows that stop closing if something gets in their way.

``Detroit-based automakers can prevent children from being killed or injured ... but they choose not to,'' said Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Cars of Kansas City, Kan.

Kids and Cars has documented 23 deaths from power windows since 1993, but says the total could be much higher. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is studying the problem and plans to release preliminary data on deaths this fall, spokesman Rae Tyson said Monday.

Kids and Cars plans to file a petition with NHTSA asking the agency to require safer power windows. The group also is running public service announcements.

The campaign doesn't target European or Japanese automakers, which have long included safer switches as a standard feature. Most European cars also have windows that automatically stop closing, according to Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG said they have safety features in place, including driver-operated lockout switches on all vehicles that prevent children from using windows in the back seat.

They also said any deaths due to power windows are a tragic reminder that children shouldn't be left unsupervised around vehicles.

``We shouldn't leave children alone in vehicles with the keys. That's the only way power windows can operate,'' GM spokesman Jim Schell said.

GM is putting European-style switches in new models, such as the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu, Schell said.

Some vehicles _ such as the Ford Focus _ have power windows that automatically stop on European models but not on U.S. models, Kids and Cars said. Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley responded that the more advanced power windows are available as an option on U.S. models.

Many European and Japanese vehicles also have switches that are flush with armrests and must be pulled up to raise the window. Those switches are generally considered more difficult to operate inadvertently than the rocking switches more common in U.S. vehicles.

DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman Ann Smith said the company is phasing out the rocking switches or putting them in the center console where they are more difficult for children to reach.