When tragedy strikes a community, the grief, like invisible gas, finds its way into every home. When that tragedy involves the deaths of five little girls ages 6 and under, that grief is magnified a thousand fold. The innocent victims who locked themselves in the trunk of a car during a sweltering afternoon Friday in West Valley City are being mourned throughout Utah and beyond, and millions of people are feeling a small measure of the hurt that now envelopes the loved ones left behind.
While the little ones are laid to rest, a question lingers for the nation at large. When will automobile manufacturers design trunks with latches on the inside?Police have properly characterized Friday's deaths as an accident, but it was hardly the first accident of its kind. One month ago, in Gallup, N.M., two boys and two girls, all cousins, died the exact same way. So did two small brothers earlier this month in Pittsburgh. That's 11 deaths of small children within a month. An advocacy group known as the "Trunk Releases Urgently Needed Coalition" has documented 610 cases of people being trapped in trunks, including 318 deaths.
Many of these involve robberies or other crimes in which victims are placed in trunks to allow for a getaway or to be taken to a secluded spot to be robbed or abused. Some cases involve teenage pranks. The rest, sadly, involve little children who like to hide in confined spaces and who are completely unaware of the dangers.
The technology needed for an inside latch is not expensive, nor would it be difficult to design. By some estimates, it would add 50 cents to the price of a car. The latch, or button, could be made luminescent so as to be easily found. Such a system would not be foolproof. But children, who generally love to push buttons and pull levers, would be drawn to these glowing devices.
As the coalition notes, the auto industry was quick to recall all station wagons years ago when reports came of children locking themselves in wheel well storage compartments. Laws are on the books requiring freezers and refrigerators to be opened from the inside. How much more evidence is needed before either manufacturers do the same for trunks or Congress imposes the requirement on them?
The unspeakable grief that now covers the Wasatch Front will remain forever in the homes where the little victims once ran and played. Those who build cars have an obligation to guard against such a thing ever happening again.