The Car Accidents You Don't Think About

The Problem: Power Windows

How many of us have left our kids in the car for a minute or two while we were getting cash from the ATM or running into the dry cleaner? Greg Bauer of Dubois, Indiana, was mowing his neighbor's lawn when his 5-year-old son, Reece, came over and climbed into his truck. Since Bauer was almost finished, he let his son stay and put the key in the Accessory position of the ignition switch so that Reece could listen to the radio. "I didn't think twice about this because I knew Reece wouldn't be able to accidentally turn over the motor and start the vehicle," Bauer says. "I had no idea the windows would even still work."

When Bauer went to put his mower in the back of the truck, he found his son with the window up to his neck, not breathing. Reece had leaned out the window and his knee accidentally hit the power-window button, causing the window to go up. Bauer acted fast: He let the window down, administered CPR, and then, because he had no cell-phone service, drove Reece to their home. His wife, Jennifer, called 911. Reece was pale, making little noises but not opening his eyes. "The hour it took for the ambulance to come to our house and then get to the nearest hospital was sheer torture," Jennifer says. "Reece was airlifted to a bigger hospital but there wasn't room for us in the helicopter, so we had to drive. By the time we got to the hospital, our son was yelling for us. It was the most joyous sound we've ever heard."

Reece is now a happy, healthy 9-year-old, but it's unnerving to think of how differently things could have gone. "Electronic car windows have 30-80 pounds of force, and it takes only 22 pounds of force to break the trachea of a small child," says Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, which reports that at least 35 children have been fatally injured in power-window accidents in the last decade. Just as in Reece's case, it's easy to accidentally close a window on a neck or an arm. And most windows don't automatically stop and reverse when they hit something solid. Fennell would like to see this changed. "There probably isn't a new garage-door opener or elevator today that doesn't automatically reverse if an object is in its path. So why do we allow our car windows to be potential guillotines for our kids?"

Prevent an accident: Start by never leaving children alone in a vehicle and never leaving the keys in the vehicle when kids are nearby. Use the window lockout switch, if your car has one, to prevent anyone but the driver from having access to power windows. Manufacturers are legally required to equip all new passenger vehicles with lever window switches as of October 1, 2010. These are safer because they must be pulled up to close, making it much more difficult to raise the window by bumping it with an elbow. But that won't totally solve the problem. "Many times a driver operating the windows from the front seat can't see that a child in the back has his hand or even his head out the window and could get trapped," Fennell says. "This can be especially dangerous if you're using the one-touch control that automatically raises the window all the way up."

Consider this simple, commonsense strategy: Make a habit of issuing an "All clear" warning. You can't always turn around while you're driving, but if your child can talk, you can get verbal confirmation that all hands are away from windows before you roll them up or down.

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