If asked to name the deadly hazards of today's automobiles, few people would mention the power-window switch. Most people don't realize that windows equipped with rocker or toggle switches on door armrests pose a serious hazard for children who can lean out the windows and accidentally hit the switch with their elbow, knee, or foot. It takes only a few seconds for the window to roll up and fatally strangle a child or cause serious injury such as crushing the hands and fingers, abdomen, or neck. Studies have shown that power windows can exert an upward force of 50 to 80 pounds. Only 8 to 12 pounds of force is needed to raise the window, leaving the rest of the force (40 to 70 pounds) to strangle or crush a child.
Kids And Cars, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing child injuries and deaths related to automobiles, has documented at least 37 children killed by power windows since 1990 - most of them age three and younger. At least eight young children were strangled by power windows in 2004 alone, and many other incidents may have never been reported. A 1997 report by the- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 499 people were treated in emergency rooms for power-window injuries every year during their study, more than 60% of them were children, 32 percent of the children were five years old or younger.
Cars made in Europe, or even made in the United States for export overseas, have standard window safety features that cars made and sold in this country lack. Safer designs include moving window switches to a center console, using lever-type switches that must be pulled up to raise the window, and switches with an auto-reverse safety device that causes the window to roll back down when an object gets stuck in it. The European Union passed laws almost 3 years ago requiring that all new cars sold in Europe be equipped with safer switches.
Federal standards continue to allow cars sold in the United States to have the more dangerous rocker and toggle switches for power windows. Further, auto-reverse devices are not required by federal standards. The estimated cost of installing auto-reverse devices is as low as $8 to $10 per set of windows.