In early September 2001, the NHTSA issued a new regulation that required all new vehicles to have an interior emergency release latch inside their trunks. Since then, all passenger cars come with a small, glow-in-the-dark release handle in the trunk, but some Kia models are being recalled for a malfunction in their trunk latches.
Kia’s recalling 319,436 2016-2017 Rios, 2016-2018 Optimas, and 2017-2018 Optima Hybrids and Optima PHEVs. Recall documentation states that the base of the trunk latch can crack, preventing the trunk from being opened from the inside. The failure means the vehicles do not comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 401, which mandates the internal trunk release.
Owners of those cars will be notified by mail and can take their vehicle to a Kia dealer for free repair. The automaker said it would reimburse any expenses owners incur during the recall process. Kia’s fix is to install a strengthened trunk latch base subassembly to prevent future damage to the component.
The FMVSS 401 standard states that vehicles “must be equipped with an interior trunk release mechanism that makes it possible for a person trapped inside to escape from the compartment.” The release can be operated by the person in the trunk using a visible mechanism or automatically through the vehicle’s electronics. If automatic, the release must unlatch within five minutes of the trunk’s closure.
A frightening kidnapping in the mid-1990s prompted the trunk release law. A woman and her husband were forced into the trunk of their car at gunpoint and driven to an unknown location, where they were robbed. Because their vehicle lacked an interior trunk release, they were unable to escape until after the robbery. The woman, Janette Fennell, formed an advocacy group and began working with legislators to mandate trunk releases. The efforts were successful, and in 2002, all new vehicles had to feature a visible interior trunk release.