Automatic garage door openers: hazard for children

Pediatrics. 1996 Oct;98(4 Pt 1):770-3.


Objectives: Despite significant advances in automatic garage door opener design, automatic garage door openers continue to severely injure or kill children. In this investigation, we sought to determine the frequency and circumstances of accidents that have caused severe injury or death to children. We also tried to develop a means by which homeowners can evaluate their door openers.

Methods: We present the histories of three children severely injured or killed by automatic garage door openers. We reviewed national data of similar accidents primarily published by the US Product Safety Commission and Underwriters Laboratories. Also, we evaluated 50 automatic door openers for safety of operation. The reversing mechanisms of door openers were tested using a cardiopulmonary resuscitation mannequin, a roll of paper towels, and a block of wood.

Results: In the United States, at least 85 children have had permanent brain injury or have died since 1974 as a result of accidents involving automatic door openers. A review of circumstances of the accidents illustrates that accidents are caused both by use of the openers by children and by faults in design. Most accidents have occurred when children have found access to the activation devices and have been entrapped under closing doors that failed to reverse. However, in one case, an adult activated the opener and left the premises before the door completely closed. Our evaluation of 50 garage door openers showed that although 88% percent reversed when encountering a block of wood, 40% failed to reverse when coming down on a supine, child-sized cardiopulmonary resuscitation mannequin.

Conclusions: Automatic garage door openers pose a serious risk of severe injury or death to children. It is probable that many doors would not reverse if they came down on a young child. Therefore, we have devised a way for homeowners to test their door openers that closely mimics our evaluations using the mannequin by using a large roll of paper towels. If the door fails to reverse using this test, we suggest that homeowners disconnect their openers and operate the doors manually until the openers are serviced or replace their automatic openers with one that meets the latest Underwriters Laboratory standards. We also have other recommendations regarding the safe operation of the doors, including improving the safety standards for openers in apartment complexes. Compliance with these recommendations should reduce the number of injuries to children caused by garage door openers.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Home* / mortality
  • Accidents, Home* / statistics & numerical data
  • Asphyxia / epidemiology
  • Asphyxia / etiology*
  • Automation / instrumentation
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / epidemiology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / etiology
  • Brain Injuries / epidemiology
  • Brain Injuries / etiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Equipment Design
  • Equipment Safety
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / complications
  • Hypoxia / epidemiology
  • Hypoxia / etiology*
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology