Why Do Cars Have an Emergency Latch in the Trunk?

Carlos Kirby
· 4 min read
Did you know that every passenger car built after 2002 has an emergency
release lever? Trunk entrapments that resulted in deaths were common in the mid-’80s. This happened the most often to children and kidnapping victims.
To prevent such deaths, in September 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated that all new vehicles be fitted with new
car technology
, an emergency latch release.
This latch glows in the dark and opens from the inside. Older car models manufactured before 2002 are the main contributor to trunk entrapment deaths.
Emergency trunk latches were created after a couple was kidnapped.

The story behind the emergency latch in the trunk

According to
Inside Hook
, the story of the emergency latch release dates back to October 29, 1995, when Janette Fennell, her husband Greig, and their nine-month-old son returned home from a friend's house.
As the door was closing in the garage, two men in Halloween masks squeezed their way in. Janette and Greig were held at gunpoint and ordered to get into the trunk of their Lexus. Their son was sleeping in the backseat.
After a while, the car hit the road. Locked in the trunk, uncertain of who the kidnappers were or where they were going, Janette and her husband were sure they would be harmed if they didn't do something.
As the car drove through the streets of San Francisco, Janette started pulling on the carpet in the trunk. She exposed several wires and tugged on them hoping they would trigger the trunk to open. After driving for almost an hour, the car left the exit, entered paved roads, and then stopped. Their attackers confronted them once more. Early in the morning, the kidnappers robbed them of their cash, jewelry, and credit cards then ordered them to get back into the trunk.
Desperate to know their son's whereabouts, Janette spotted a gap of light in the wires she had exposed. Greig pulled the wire Janette had shown him, and the trunk popped up from the inside. The kidnappers had fled the scene, and their son was nowhere to be seen.
Greig and Janette hiked to a payphone and called 911. They later learned their son was safe. The kidnappers had left him on the front porch of their house.
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Fennell started an initiative to push for trunk releases

The assailants were never caught. After experiencing this trauma, Fennell knew she had to do something to ensure nobody else would go through the same thing. At the time, violent endings for trunk kidnapping victims were common.
Fennell began with research into trunk entrapment which often happened to children more than adults. Kids were quickly affected by the heat build-up and lack of ventilation after accidentally closing the trunk.
Since the mid-80s, many have pushed for solutions to trunk entrapments. Families who had lost their loved ones through similar incidents called for a trunk safety system to prevent these types of deaths.
Trunk Releases Urgently Needed Coalition
(TRUNC) organization saw the conception and implementation of the emergency latch release in the trunk. By 2002, it was a requirement for all new cars to feature a glow-in-the-dark handle that pops the trunk open from the inside after it's tugged.

Has the latch system solved the problem?

Since introducing the emergency latch system in the trunk, no children have died due to trunk entrapments. When the trunk closes, the trunk release button or lever glows in the dark so it’s easy to locate.
"We have not been able to uncover one case of a person dying in a trunk since those releases were put in. We have plenty of stories of people getting put in the trunk by a thief, and taken to the ATM. But they found the release and jumped out," Janette told
Atlas Obscura
Just like how an emergency latch is essential, so is insuring your car.
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