updated 9/13/2004 12:59:00 PM ET 2004-09-13T16:59:00

In an effort to prevent child deaths, the government is requiring automakers to install safer switches on power windows by 2008.

Officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the new requirement Monday in Columbus, Ohio, with Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who pushed for the change. The regulation will help prevent a child’s head or limb from being caught in a power window, said NHTSA Chief Dr. Jeffrey Runge.

“Although these incidents are infrequent, a simple, inexpensive remedy is available and should be standard practice,” he said.

Toggle switches to be banned
The rule will outlaw toggle switches, which rock back and forth, in all vehicles sold in the United States by Oct. 1, 2008. Automakers can replace them with several different designs, including switches that are flush with the armrest and require the occupant to lift up to close the window.

“No technology is foolproof, and nothing can take the place of parental vigilance,” Runge said.

NHTSA reviewed death certificates and found that approximately two children die every three years because they hit a power window switch with their arms or legs and accidentally strangle themselves. Kids and Cars, a Kansas-based advocacy group, estimates power window switches have killed at least 23 children since 1993.

“We thought we were the only people in the world this happens to,” said Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder whose 4-year-old daughter, Kaley, died when her knee hit the family van’s power window switch in 1992.

Cost called negligible
NHTSA said the cost to automakers is negligible, since they have enough lead time to incorporate the switches into newly designed vehicles. Automakers agreed with that estimate in documents submitted to the agency, although several said the rule was unnecessary because many automakers are already making the change.

Most Japanese vehicles sold in the United States already have the newer switches. NHTSA said 55 percent of General Motors Corp. vehicles and 26 percent of DaimlerChrysler vehicles already have them. Ford Motor Co. said 61 percent of its vehicles will have them by 2007.

NHTSA denied a request by Kids and Cars and other safety groups to require windows that would automatically open if they struck something as they were going up, like the systems on elevator doors.

The agency said the cost of such windows would be at least $50 per vehicle. It also was concerned that some systems wouldn’t be able to detect a weight as light as a child’s finger.

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