Activist’s Crusade Stalls as Auto Safety Goals Collide

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Late on the evening of June 4, 2007, Mary Kay Kidwell’s 17-year-old grandson drove his 1990 Toyota Camry off a back road and into an Indiana reservoir. Trey Kidwell had taken a wrong turn while returning to his Centerville, Ind., home from a visit to a friend in a nearby town. He didn’t know that the road ended at Brookville Lake.

As the Camry was sinking in 10 to 15 feet of water, Trey’s passenger, Robert Sharp, 16, managed to save himself by forcing the door open enough to squeeze his way out. Trey broke the driver-side door handle and a backseat door handle while trying to escape, but he couldn’t make it out of the car. Divers found him, still inside the Camry, about two hours later.

The terrible news turned Mary Kay Kidwell into an unlikely activist, determined to make something positive out of Trey’s death by preventing the scores of similar drownings that occur in the U.S. every year.

“I’m just me, just ‘Grandma,’” said Kidwell, 70. “I don’t have any clout, I’m not a politician. I have nothing to sell. I just want to save lives.”

Kidwell has lobbied regulators for a window-breaking device to be installed in all vehicles. Such products as ResQMe, a spring-loaded hammer that goes on a car key chain, already are available.

But in her quest to save people from drowning in submerged vehicles, Kidwell has run into a competing, long-cherished safety goal: protecting people from being thrown out of their windows during rollover accidents.


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