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Safer switch required on car windows

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

Officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the requirement yesterday in Columbus, Ohio, with Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, who pushed for the change. The regulation aims to help prevent a child's head or limb from being caught in a power window, said Dr. Jeffrey Runge, NHTSA chief.

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

The rule would 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's speaker of the House, Larry Householder, whose 4-year-old daughter, Kaley, died when her knee hit the family van's power window switch in 1992.

NHTSA said the cost to automakers is negligible. Automakers agreed with that assessment in documents sent to the agency, but several said the rule was unnecessary because many automakers are already making the change. Most Japanese vehicles sold in the United States have the newer switches. NHTSA said 55 percent of General Motors Corp. vehicles and 26 percent of DaimlerChrysler vehicles have them. Ford Motor Co. said 61 percent of its vehicles will have them by 2007.

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