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TinotopiaLog → Trunk Entrapment ( 8 Jan 2001)
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Monday 08 January 2001

Trunk Entrapment

Pictured above is a trunk release handle on a 2001 Ford Taurus. The point is that people who are trapped in the car’s trunk can escape by pulling on the handle, which glows in the dark.

If you think that’s insane, consider this: GM was at one point testing — I don’t know whether it ever actually went into production or not — a system that employed infrared sensors to detect a person’s presence in the trunk and to automatically open the lid if it thought someone was inside.

According to this article, nineteen children — of course, the article only mentions children, since in this country adults are of little value compared to the kiddies — have died in the last ten years in car trunks.

According to T.R.U.N.C. — the "Trunk Releases Urgently Needed Coalition" — I swear, to paraphrase, or at least quote, Dave Barry, I am not making this up — "over" 1250 people have been "victims" of trunk entrapment, and over 300 people have died in the North America since 1970 due to trunk entrapment.

That’s an average of about 42 entrapments a year.

If we assume for a moment a constant population of 250,000,000 for North America for the last thirty years, we come up with annual odds of 1 in about 6,000,000 for being locked in a trunk (1 in about 25,000,000 for dying there).

Just to put that into perspective, it’s about 21 times more likely that you’ll be struck by lightning than you are to be locked in a trunk. It’s ten times more likely that you’ll be killed by a lightning strike in any given year than that you’ll die as a result of trunk entrapment.

In the United States, you are, however, slightly more likely to die trapped in a car trunk than you are to be killed by a tsunami. If you group earthquakes and tsunami into the same class of disaster, though, trunk entrapment moves back to second place.

You are more likely to:

  • die in a crane accident
  • die as a result of a dog bite
  • die in a boating accident
  • die while jogging
  • be accidentally shot by a police officer
  • be executed by the state of Texas
than you are to die as a result of trunk entrapment.

To prevent this plague, the U.S. Department of Transportation will require that all cars sold in the United States after 1 September 2000 be equipped with internal trunk-release handles. God bless America.

GM sell retrofit trunk-release handle kits for their older cars for $50 each.  If we assume that that cost can be cut in half by making millions of the things and by installing them during initial manufacture, fitting every car sold in the U.S. with a trunk release will cost about  $375 million a year, or $37,500,000 for every life saved.

Now, I realize that $37.5 million would be a small cost to pay to not have your wife, husband, child, or parent — or yourself — die in a car trunk. I know that if someone said to me, "$37.5 mil or your life!", I’d certainly hand over the money, if I had it.

I am mystified, though, that we find it necessary as a society to spend this kind of money on what I’m going to call "trunk death".  While those individual lives are undoubtedly worth a lot to the individuals involves, I suggest that spending $375 million to prevent 10 deaths a year is going after the seriously marginal cases.  For $375 million, we could save a lot more than ten lives — we just can’t save them in car trunks. Trunk entrapment links:

Posted by tino at 15:22 8.01.01
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