A personal tragedy involving Janette Fennell (founder & president of KidsAndCars.org) and her family led to her dedicated career in advocating for injury control and child safety. In 1995 the couple was kidnapped at gunpoint, forced into the trunk of their car, and driven to a secluded location where they were assaulted, robbed and left for dead in the trunk of their vehicle. All of this occurred while the couple had no idea as to the whereabouts of their 9-month-old baby who had been in the vehicle with them prior to the kidnapping. The couple was quite fortunate to have escaped the confines of their trunk and were reunited with their infant son who had been left alone in front of their home.
Ms. Fennell led a successful campaign to convince the powerful auto industry and the federal government that trunk entrapment was a significant problem. Ms. Fennell’s persistence paid off when a federal regulation was issued and an internal trunk release mechanism became standard equipment in all vehicles manufactured for sale or lease in the United States after September 1, 2001.
While working on the issue of trunk entrapment, Ms. Fennell was constantly contacted to assist on issues such as power window strangulations and vehicles being inadvertently knocked into gear, etc. It was apparent to Ms. Fennell that similar to trunk entrapment, these type of incidents occurred on private property, and data was not being compiled.
KidsAndCars.org was formed to protect children in and around motor vehicles while on private property, (nontraffic incidents) an unrecognized danger to children. KidsAndCars.org was the first and only organization to not only recognize the dangers, but also to begin collecting data and bring national attention to these incidents. Many adults feel its okay to leave children alone in vehicles; and in many cases they truly do not understand the risk they are exposing their children to. Parents are shocked to learn that every week over 2200 children are injured or killed in nontraffic events.
KidsAndCars.org has been and will remain in the forefront of raising awareness and educating the public about nontraffic incidents which are very serious health and safety issues. We must continue to fuel a social norm change until America’s children are safe. In over 70% of these unspeakable tragedies a parent or the direct relative of the child is behind the wheel. There is an eminent need to change current behaviors and the attitudes of parents and caregivers about this fatal practice.
As a result of KidsAndCars.org efforts, a provision in the 2005 omnibus transportation bill SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) power window switches are now safer for children effective October 1, 2010.
KidsAndCars.org leadership was responsible for the passage of the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act in February 2008 which is the only transportation bill passed in the United States since 2005. This new law requires:
- Issuance a rear visibility safety standard that will expand the required field of view when backing up and providing drivers with a means of detecting the presence of a person or object behind their vehicle;
- Requiring power windows and panels to automatically reverse direction if there is an obstruction in their path;
- Requiring all vehicles with automatic transmission to be equipped with a system that requires the brake pedal to be depressed before the car can be shifted out of “park;”
- Establishing a publicly-searchable database on non-traffic, non-crash motor vehicle injuries and
- Creation a child safety information program on non-traffic dangers to young children.