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Automakers to add gear-shift safety device

Automakers have reached a deal with the U.S. government to have a safety system in all new vehicles by 2010 to prevent a child or someone from accidentally shifting a vehicle out of park, officials said Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Automakers have reached a deal with the U.S. government to have brake interlock systems in all new vehicles by 2010 to prevent children from accidentally shifting vehicles out of park, officials said Thursday.

The interlock system, already standard on many vehicles, lets the vehicle be shifted out of park only when the brake pedal is depressed. It prevents the vehicle from unintentionally rolling away.

Nineteen automakers that operate in the U.S. reached the deal with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which formally announced it Thursday afternoon in Concord, N.H.

Agency head Nicole Nason said the agreement was spurred by New Hampshire state Rep. Packy Campbell, R-Farmington, whose 21-month-old son, Ian, was killed in 2004 when his 4-year-old brother accidentally shifted the family car into gear. The car rolled, crushing the boy.

“A 2-year-old child, a 4-year-old child, a 5-year-old child are not going to be able to roll cars anymore as a result of this agreement,” Campbell said at a news conference in Concord, N.H. “Lives are going to be saved as a result of this agreement.”

Campbell said he was able to bring his proposal to federal regulators through a meeting arranged by the office of U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H.

Automakers have been sued over a number of accidents involving vehicles accidentally put in gear. About 3 million vehicles sold each year in the U.S. lack a brake-shift interlock. Nason estimated that since 2000 there have been 40 accidents, seven fatal, involving accidentally rolling cars.

“Children and car keys should always be separated, but brake interlocks are an extra measure of protection for everyone,” said Fred Webber, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The group represents nine automakers, including General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG and Toyota Motor Corp.

“This agreement shows how the automobile industry can voluntarily work together with federal and state policy makers to identify and help resolve safety issues,” said Michael Stanton, president and CEO of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 14 automakers, including Toyota, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Corp.

The agreement first was reported by The Detroit News in Thursday’s editions. Part of the agreement requires automakers to disclose which vehicles already have brake interlocks and which do not. Nason said the data will be posted on the agency’s Web site by Sept. 1.

The safety upgrades are included in legislation being pushed by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and John Sununu, R-N.H., to prevent children from being backed over by vehicles, strangled in a power window or killed when the vehicle inadvertently shifts into gear.

“Providing for our children’s safety shouldn’t be a luxury item when purchasing a vehicle. We have the technology today to prevent thousands of deaths and injuries from occurring, literally, at our doorsteps,” the senators wrote in an Aug. 10 op-ed published by the New Hampshire Union Leader.