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September 22, 2010

Power Car Windows and Kids: Important Safety Info

Have you or someone you know been injured by a power car window? A study by Harris Interactive on behalf of KidsAndCars.org estimates over 13 million US adults have injured someone while closing a power window. And more than 22 million have been or know someone who has been injured in this fashion. It’s surprising, then, that the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) estimates that an average of five children under the age of 14 are killed and 1,000 are injured each year. How many minor incidents and injuries go unreported?

Lever switch

Current legislation requires all vehicles made after October 1, 2010 in the US to have lever, or “pull-up to close” window switches. And while it will help prevent children from accidentally rolling up a window on themselves, it doesn’t address cases where a driver doesn’t see a (human) obstruction in a side or rear window. That is where auto reversing systems (ARS) come into play. Windows with ARS automatically reverse when they encounter an obstruction, much like garage doors do. This is important because power windows can exert an upward force of 30-80 pounds. It only takes 22 pounds of force to injure or suffocate an infant.

ARS is an inexpensive solution to prevent injuries, costing under $10 per window. This technology is offered in less than half of domestic US models, if it’s even an option at all. In 2010 models (PDF), 40% of vehicles don’t even offer ARS as an option. And under 25% of new vehicles come standard with ARS in rows one and two.

What do you do if you’re shopping for a used vehicle and those available don't offer ARS? Some types of window switches are safer than others. Lever switches that have to be pulled up to raise a window aren’t implicated in accidental injuries (according to KidsAndCars.org). You can find them in many European and Asian models. And starting this fall, all US vehicles must be manufactured with these switches.

Rocker switchBut in older American models, you’ll find rocker and toggle switches. Horizontally mounted rocker switches are quite easy to accidentally activate. Just resting your elbow or forearm on one can activate the window (I know this because our Dodge Ram has rocker switches and I’ve managed to accidentally open or close the window more than once). If you push one end, the window goes up. Push the other, it goes down. Think of a see-saw action. Toggle switches are also easy to activate by pushing forward or pulling back. A child’s knee on an armrest could set this one off. Watch for these types of window switches in the back rows of a vehicle. If you do have these in your model, never leave children unattended in the car, especially with the keys in the ignition.

Toggle Window SwitchUnfortunately, I could not find any sources for aftermarket window ARS parts. Your best bet is to look for a vehicle with lever switches or a model that offers ARS as a standard feature (or at least as an option). KidsAndCars.org still strongly recommends that NHTSA amend its requirements to include ARS standard in all US vehicles. I don’t know about you, but I support that recommendation. What do you think?

Switch images from IIHS.
Article sources: KidsAndCars ARS info & ARS availability, IIHS, Consumer Reports


By Becky Scott, Contributor


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