I. Executive Summary

    This report presents results of a study to determine the extent of certain selected non-traffic or non-crash motor vehicle-related hazards, and the relative value of various sources for providing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with information on those hazards. This investigation was conducted as a result of safety issues that have been raised concerning potential non-traffic and non-crash safety problems.
    NHTSA’s Office of Rulemaking, with assistance from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), conducted a study of selected death certificates. Although NHTSA has an extensive database of statistical information on motor vehicle crashes that occur on the public traffic way, the agency does not have a database or other means to adequately determine the number of motor vehicle-related deaths that involve a motor vehicle in certain non-traffic or non-crash situations.
    The data included in this report continues work begun following the deaths of 11 children from heat exposure in three incidents of accidental trunk entrapment in a one-month period of the summer of 1998. That study of 1997 death certificates found that death certificates represent a good source for identifying non-traffic and non-crash motor vehicle-related deaths. A final report of that study was published on May 6, 2002 and is in NHTSA Docket No. 1999-5063.
    The data in this report examines 1998 death certificates and other sources of information relating to the following four hazards:

  1. Persons left in a vehicle’s passenger compartment or who lock themselves in the trunk of a vehicle in hot weather,
  2. Children strangled by a vehicle’s power window or sunroof,
  3. Persons killed or injured as a result of a vehicle backing up, and
  4. Persons killed or injured as a result of vehicle-generated carbon monoxide.

    Only issues #1 and #2 above were examined in the study of 1997 death certificates referenced above.
    This report is based on 4,046 death certificates from 1998, received from 35 states and the District of Columbia, out of an identified sample of an estimated 5,500 cases. The cases were derived from the most recent NCHS death certificate data that was available when this study was conducted. National estimates were extrapolated from this sample based on a simple ratio of identified cases to cases for which death certificates were received.
    This study also examined a number of databases and other data sources, both within NHTSA and outside the agency, as well as peer reviewed research articles.
    The results of the study are summarized below.

  • Carbon monoxide - Unintentional deaths from vehicle-generated carbon monoxide found in 1998 death certificates project to a national total of slightly less than 200 such deaths a year. This is consistent with other sources examined. These deaths often involve adults who are in or around running vehicles in closed garages or in their homes having forgotten to turn off a vehicle in an attached garage. Victims in some of the cases identified were under the influence of alcohol at the time of their death.
  • Vehicles backing up - Deaths found in 1998 death certificates project to a national total of about 120 deaths annually of persons struck by a vehicle backing up. Most of the victims are either very young (less than five years old) or elderly (60 and above), with most of the elderly victims over age 70. As many as 6,000 injuries occur each year as a result of vehicles backing into a person, but these injuries are almost all very minor.
  • Excessive heat inside a vehicle passenger compartment - Deaths found in 1998 death certificates project to a national total of 29 deaths annually of persons exposed to excessive heat inside a vehicle passenger compartment. A similar level of annual deaths (27) from this cause was found in the agency’s study of 1997 death certificates when a national projection was made.
  • Vehicle window - Four deaths resulting from interaction with a vehicle window were found in 1998 death certificates. The study of 1997 death certificates also found four deaths involving interaction with a vehicle window.