Q&A: Power windows and child safety
- 1 How many people are killed or injured by power windows?
There is no comprehensive database that tracks power window injuries or deaths. Most of the people who die from power window injuries are children. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration counted an average of five children 14 and younger killed by power windows each year in 2003-2004. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2009. Not-in-traffic surveillance 2007-Children. Report no. DOT HS-811-116. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. The agency estimated that approximately 2,000 people were injured by power windows in 2008-20010, half of whom were children. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2012. Not-in-Traffic Surveillance – non-crash injuries. Report no. DOT HS-811-655. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.
- 2 How do children get caught in power windows and what happens when they do?
In documented power window cases involving child injury or death, children often were left inside a vehicle without adult supervision. Children put their heads and/or arms outside the window and inadvertently leaned, knelt or stepped on the window switch or in some other way triggered the power window. Office of the Federal Register. 2006. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Title 49 Transportation, Part 571 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Subpart 118 Power-operated window, partition, and roof panel systems (49 CFR 571.118). Code of Federal Regulations (October 1, 2006 edition), pp. 405-10. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration. There also have been cases in which an adult unknowingly trapped a child when closing a window. Simmons, GT. 1992. Death by power car window: an unrecognized hazard. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 13(2):112-4.
Sixty-eight percent of incidents result in fractures or crushed body parts. Other injuries include bruising, dislocation, laceration and strain or sprain. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1997. Injuries associated with hazards involving motor vehicle power windows. Research note. Report no. DOT HS-042 417. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. Children have died after their heads, necks or midsections were trapped in the window for five or more minutes and they couldn't be resuscitated. In cases involving multiple children in a car, those who witnessed the injury were more likely to panic and call for help rather than try to open the power window.
- 3 Can power window switches be designed so that children won’t trigger them inadvertently?
Yes, lever switches are considered the safest design. This type of switch is pressed down to open the window and pulled up to close the window. Since Oct. 1, 2010, the federal government has required that all new passenger vehicles with power windows be equipped with lever switches. Office of the Federal Register. 2006. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Title 49 Transportation, Part 571 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Subpart 118 Power-operated window, partition, and roof panel systems (49 CFR 571.118). Code of Federal Regulations (October 1, 2006 edition), pp. 405-10. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration.
Before the regulation went into effect, rocker and toggle switches were also commonly used. Rocker switches are designed to pivot on a center hinge, effectively operating like a see-saw. Toggle switches operate using small knobs that push back and forth to open and close a window.
With rocker and toggle switches, downward pressure (e.g., a child kneeling or leaning) on the switch can result in windows opening or closing. With lever switches, windows can't be closed due to unintentional pressure.
- 4 What are automatic-reverse power windows?
Like many elevator doors, this type of power window automatically retracts when it contacts an obstruction such as a hand or arm. Child safety advocates support automatic-reverse windows as an added measure to prevent power window-related injuries and deaths. This feature would prevent injuries that lever switches don't address, for example, when a driver is operating the switch and cannot see the rear seat passengers.
In February 2008, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007 became law, directing NHTSA to consider amending the federal standard for power windows to require an automatic reverse feature that would be activated if the window's path is obstructed. In February 2011 NHTSA announced it would not pursue such a regulation. Office of the Federal Register. 2011. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Withdrawal of notice of proposed rulemaking. Docket no. NHTSA-2011-0027; 49 CFR Part 571 – Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Subpart 118 Power-operated window, partition, and roof panel systems. Federal Register, vol. 76, no. 41, pp. 11415-11417. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration. The agency said serious and fatal injuries involving power windows already are being addressed by the rule requiring lever switches in all new vehicles. The remaining injuries are mostly minor and hard to quantify, NHTSA said. "Given our present understanding of the data about the nature, source, and number of power window injuries, we believe that there are very few fatalities or serious injuries that any additional requirements for ARS (automatic reversal systems) could mitigate or prevent. They would instead address primarily 'finger-pinch' type injuries."