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Which power-window switches are safer?

Check the switches if you're buying a used car

Last updated: April 2014

At least 25 children have died during the past decade from injuries involving power windows in cars, according to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit group that tracks auto-safety issues involving children. Typically, the child has his or her head out the window of a parked car and accidentally leans on the window switch. The glass moves up forcefully, choking the child.

Two types of switches are inherently riskier than others if they’re mounted horizontally on the door’s armrest:

  • Rocker switches move the glass up when you press one end of the switch, down when you press the other.
  • Toggle switches work when pushed forward or pulled back.

A third type, the lever switch, is safer because it makes it harder to raise the window accidentally. Lever switches must be pulled up to raise the glass. They generally have not been implicated in fatal injuries, according to Kids and Cars.

Switches of any design mounted vertically or on an upswept armrest are harder to activate by accident.

Lever switches and autoreverse sensors are common in Europe. But autoreverse is required in the United States only in vehicles with auto/one-touch-up windows and remotely controlled windows.

Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety (and a former member of Consumers Union’s board of directors), says, "If garage doors can have a reversing sensor, power windows should." His organization petitioned the government for upgraded safety standards.

In response to a petition by safety groups including Consumers Union, in April 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) decided to ban power window rocker and toggle switches from U.S.-manufactured vehicles. Car makers now must equip passenger vehicles with lever switches.

What you can do

Never leave children alone in a car or the keys in the car when kids are nearby. Pay close attention to the design and location of window switches when shopping for a used car. New cars will have the safer design.

   

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