WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Auto safety and consumer groups pressured U.S. automakers and the government Tuesday to change design features of power windows to improve child safety.
Led by a national safety group, Kids and Cars, the advocates are seeking voluntarily steps by auto manufacturers but will petition federal regulators to force change, if necessary.
Regulators are compiling power window death and injury statistics as part of a larger safety study. Preliminary government figures show as many as four deaths annually. But the agency has no current information on injuries, which previous studies have numbered at roughly 500 a year. Many involved injuries to fingers, hands and arms.
According to Kids and Cars, an 11-year-old in Indiana was killed in April. There were four known deaths last year and one serious injury, the group said.
The nonprofit child safety organization called on the industry to accelerate redesigns of horizontal rocker and toggle switches so windows cannot be activated accidentally. The group also recommended an auto-reverse feature so the window will retreat, like elevator or garage doors, if its movement is blocked.
"Detroit-based automakers can prevent children from being killed or injured by designing and installing safer power windows and power window switches," Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Cars, said in a news conference.
These switch designs are found primarily on doors or center consoles in vehicles made by Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Daimler Chrysler, according to Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine.
Most imported vehicles and a few U.S. models have lever-type switches, which must be pulled up to raise the window.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has previously rejected requests to make car manufacturers install auto reverse, mainly because of the cost. But the agency, in 1996, ordered the industry to make window switches less prone to activate accidentally.
Daimler Chrysler and GM offer power locks on some vehicles for rear and front-passenger windows and have been phasing in vertical lever designs on newer models. But neither company offered a timetable for making lever switches standard on all vehicles.
"We urge drivers to activate those lockouts," Schell said.
Ann Smith, a spokeswoman for Daimler Chrysler, said the company offers auto-reverse on its automatic sliding doors on vans but not on windows.
Ford did not respond to a request for comment.
"It is a hazard very few people know about until it happens," said David Pittle, Consumers Union senior vice president.