The government is requiring automakers to install safer switches on power windows by 2008 in an effort to prevent child deaths.

Officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the new requirement on Monday in Columbus, Ohio, with Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, who pushed for the change, the Associated Press (AP) said.

The regulation will help prevent a child’s head or limb from being caught in a power window, NHTSA chief Jeffrey Runge told AP.

“Although these incidents are infrequent, a simple, inexpensive remedy is available and should be standard practice,” he reportedly said.

AP said the rule will outlaw toggle switches, which rock back and forth, in all vehicles sold in the United States by October 1, 2008. Automakers can replace them with several different designs, including switches that are flush with the armrest and require the occupant to lift up to close the window.

“No technology is foolproof, and nothing can take the place of parental vigilance,” Runge told AP.

NHTSA reportedly reviewed death certificates and found that approximately two children die every three years because they hit a power window switch with their arms or legs and accidentally strangle themselves. Kids and Cars, a Kansas-based advocacy group, estimates power window switches have killed at least 23 children since 1993.

According to AP, NHTSA said the cost to automakers is negligible, since they have enough lead time to incorporate the switches into newly designed vehicles. Automakers reportedly agreed with that estimate in documents submitted to the agency, although several said the rule was unnecessary because many automakers are already making the change.

The Associated Press said most Japanese vehicles sold in the United States already have the newer switches. NHTSA reportedly said 55% of General Motors vehicles and 26% of DaimlerChrysler vehicles already have them. Ford said 61% of its vehicles will have them by 2007, AP added.

The report said NHTSA denied a request by Kids and Cars and other safety groups to require windows that would automatically open if they struck something as they were going up, like the systems on elevator doors.

The agency reportedly said the cost of such windows would be at least $US50 per vehicle. It also was concerned that some systems wouldn’t be able to detect a weight as light as a child’s finger.