A device as cheap as $9 could have saved the life of a Greene County, Virginia toddler earlier this week. On Monday, a 25 year old mother of three was washing her 2002 Ford Explorer in the family’s driveway, while her two older children, ages 3 and 5 sat inside the parked vehicle. Her 18 month old daughter, Aeayla Camacho toddled outside following her mother as she performed this chore. Suddenly, the vehicle began to roll backwards and the mother scrambled to get her toddler out of the way. Despite injuring herself, her efforts to save her daughter were in vain. The vehicle crushed the toddler. Little Aeayla died in her driveway.
Investigators believe that the five year old pulled the vehicle’s gear shift out of “Park” and into “Neutral” causing the vehicle that was parked on a slight incline to roll backwards. The children inside the Ford Explorer were not physically harmed in the incident. But they did lose their little sister to a preventable accident.
That accident could have been prevented by Ford. If only, the manufacturer had installed a Brake Transmission Shift Interlock (BTSI) device on the 2002 Ford Explorer just like the one they installed on the Ford Windstar Minivan, a 5 year old girl would not have been able to pull the vehicle’s gear shift out of Park and into Neutral without pressing the brake pedal. It’s that simple.
And tragically, Aeayla’s mother probably never knew that the SUV was not equipped with this inexpensive life-saving device. Most drivers are taught to press the brake and hold before shifting the vehicle into gear. We do it automatically, without thought, just like taking a breath. So Aeayla’s mother probably didn’t know, most likely could not have known if the vehicle could be shifted into gear without pressing on the brake pedal unless she had intentionally tested the vehicle to see if the Brake Shift Interlock Device had been installed. And why would she have done that?
What is a Brake Transmission Shift Interlock Device?
A Brake Transmission Shift Interlock Device (BTSI) is a small part electrical, part mechanical device that was installed in many vehicles as early as 1989. This device is attached to the Shifter assembly and prevents the vehicle from being shifted out of “park” unless the driver’s foot is on the brake pedal. Most experts agree that the BTSI mechanism is designed to last the life of the vehicle and it is rare that one fails unless it is intentionally removed or disabled. All vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2010 are required to have this device.
I Think I’ve Heard About This Before
If this story sounds familiar to you, it should. According to KidsandCars.org, a non-profit group based in Kansas City, MO that monitors child-related vehicle dangers, 155 children were killed by rollaway cars without BTSI between 2000-2011. Many of these accidents occurred with the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan, also sold as the Dodge Caravan, and the Plymouth Voyager. At the time, Daimler Chrysler marketed the vehicle as the “Leader in Safety” and it quickly became America’s top-selling minivan.
In several reports, Paul Sheridan, a former general management automotive safety expert and former Chrysler employee said he tried to get to the company to install BTSI’s in the top-selling minivan that was being heavily marketed to families with young children. Sheridan argued that the company’s closest competitor, the Ford Windstar, had the device and because of this, the company should no longer claim that it’s minivan was no longer “the leader in safety.” The company refused to install the device on the minivans even though it was so inexpensive. According to Sheridan, the company responded that if they installed the device on the minivan, they’d have to do it for all of their vehicles and the development cost for that would be too great.
In a ABC Primetime report that aired in 2001, investigative reporters showed several demonstrations of Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth minivans rolling away after the vehicle was shifted without the brake pedal being pressed. The report also profiled several cases where serious injuries and 3 deaths had occurred. In civil lawsuits, representatives from Chrysler testified that the vehicles were equipped with key shift interlock devices and that children were not supposed to be left alone in the car. They also refused to admit that it could be foreseen that a child could get into the car without the parent’s knowledge. Even though Chrysler implemented the ever popular “Where were the child’s parents?” defense, it wasn’t enough to get the lawsuits thrown out and they were eventually settled out of court for undisclosed amounts of money. Unfortunately, settling these cases quietly enabled them to continue with business as usual without warning consumers about the dangers of their minivans.
Why Key Shift Interlock isn’t Enough
Key Shift Interlock is a device that all automobiles sold in the United States were required to have by 1992. But the device only prevents the vehicle from being shifted from the park position when the key has been removed. It doesn’t work if the key is in the ignition. I suspect that in Monday’s accident in Greene County, the mother might have had the key in the “on” position to enable to radio or other accessories to be played. I often do this when cleaning my own vehicle so that I can listen to the radio while I work.
Tragic Accidents like the Greene County Accident will Continue
The average age of the vehicles on roadways in America is about 11.4 years according to Consumer Reports. Millions of cars that were manufactured by US automakers before September 1, 2010 do not have BTSI. Most drivers don’t even know if their vehicle is equipped with the life-saving device or not.
To test your vehicle, KidsandCars recommends the following procedure:
- Park your vehicle on a level surface and set the parking brake.
- Make sure no one is standing in front of or behind the vehicle.
- Insert the key in the ignition and turn to the first position (radio will not turn on.)
- Do not touch the brake and see if you can shift out of “park.”
- Repeat the fourth step in the next two key positions, including with the engine on.
- If you can shift from park in any key position without pressing the brake, your vehicle lacks BTSI in all key positions and could pose a rollaway threat.
Keeps Kids Safe Around Vehicles
It is also recommended that children never be allowed to play in or around vehicles even if they are equipped with BTSI. KidsandCars recommends parents take the following precautions:
- Always set the parking brake. This may not prevent a rollaway vehicle but can help to slow one down.
- Keep vehicles locked when not attended.
- Never leave keys in the car.
- Never let a child play in the driver’s seat.