Safe Driving Herstory

Updated: Mar 24


Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash

We are now in Women's History Month and in the spirit of highlighting the stories of women who have changed the world for the better, we thought we would share the story of a woman who has made driving safer for all of us.


The Hustle recently published the story of Janette Fennell, a woman who, after having a traumatic thing happen to her while driving, took steps to ensure that it wouldn't happen to anyone else.


In the early 2000s, Fennell was in her vehicle when she was kidnapped, along with her husband, and stored in the trunk of her car as the kidnappers drove away.


At the time, there was no way to open a trunk door from the inside of the inside, something that Fennell learned the hard way as she and her husband desperately tried to escape from the vehicle. Eventually, they were able to force the trunk door open by tearing up the carpeting and finding a piece of metal.


In the wake of her experience, Fennell decided that something had to be done. She reached out to vehicle manufacturers and vehicle safety organizations to find out why an emergency release mechanism was not a standard vehicle feature but received no responses.


Eventually, she realized that the problem may lie in the lack of data or evidence to suggest this was a problem. Her research found that no major study had ever been undertaken into the issue.


"So, in late 1995, Fennell decided to collect her own data. Using pre-Google search engines ...[she] sifted through thousands of old news articles and court transcripts...."

In the early 2000s, this was a great deal of work. But it paid off for Fennell. Her data research found that it was no small issue; over 1000 people had being locked in car trucks since the 80s and 25% of those had died.


But she made another discovery as well:


"Fennell also soon learned that she hadn't been the first person to try to alert car manufacturers of this issue. She discovered more than two dozen petitions dating as far back as 1984 asking for the implementation of emergency trunk latches."

Vehicle manufacturers were well aware of the problem. In fact, Fennell's research showed that they had actually done cost-benefit analyses... and decided that it would be less expensive to do nothing.


From there, she got to work. She launched an association, did more research, got in contact with local authorities when similar cases occurred, attended panels, and lobbied for change.


In 1999, as a result of her work, the NHTSA made the inclusion of an emergency trunk release mandatory for vehicle manufacturers.


While she had achieved what she originally set out to do, this was by no means the end of her story. The organization she founded, Kids and Cars, continues to lobby for better vehicle safety measures and technology. Some of their successes have included safer power window switches and mandatory brake-shift interlock systems.


Fennell's determination and tenacity are incredible and her refusal to give up in the face of adversity has meant safer vehicles for all of us.


To read more about Fennell's activism, check out the original article in The Hustle.

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