The recommended safety device comes too late for parents like Paul Smith. Ten months ago, his two little girls, two nieces, and a neighbor suffocated after getting trapped in the trunk of a car while playing.
"In the past, there was no way out at all, even for an adult," says Smith.
It is that unsettling realization which led automobile manufacturers to develop a variety of internal trunk mechanisms. Some companies are taking the lead and offering safety retrofit kits, which people can install on cars they already own. Not yet available, General MotorsÂ' new infrared trunk release will be equipped with heat and motion sensors. This model will be able to detect a warm-blooded body that has been trapped in the trunk.
"We're going to recommend that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration actually create a federal equipment standard that will mandate trunk releases in all cars after the year 2001," says Heather Paul, Executive Director of the National Safe Kids Campaign. "We're trying to convince parents all around the country, especially with the searing heat of summerÂ…keep the kids safe."
While retrofit kits are available at many dealers, Heather Paul says trunk latches are not going to be in most cars in the very near future.
All of this provides some solace for Smith, who believes the tragic story of his daughters and nieces is the call to action that will keep more children from dying the same way.