Finally, regulation where it’s needed: seven new bills with a focus on consumer safety

headshot of NCL Health Policy intern Alexa

By NCL Health Policy intern Alexa Beeson

This June, the House Energy and Commerce’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee held a hearing in which they considered seven different bills concerning product safety. The hearing was motivated by a commitment to removing life-threatening products from the market, which–somehow–remain in circulation for purchase. Most notably, the bills address furniture tip-over (H.R. 2211), crib bumpers (H.R. 3170), inclined infant sleepers (H.R. 3172), and fire safety (H.R. 806).

The witnesses included Will Wallace, a manager at Consumer Reports; Crystal Ellis, a devastated mother and founder of Parents Against Tip-Overs; Chris Parsons, the president of Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters; and Charles A. Samuels, a member of Mintz, a law firm that represents manufacturers of some of the products implicated in various accidents.

Ellis was especially moving. She lost her son, Camden, five years ago on Father’s Day in a tip-over accident involving an unstable dresser. The day she testified would have been her son’s 7th birthday. Camden’s death and the deaths of many others in tip-over accidents catalyzed the founding of Parents Against Tip-Overs, which advocates for children who were victims of unsafe consumer products. Ellis recounted the devastating loss of her son and pleaded that the committee act to protect other children from suffering the same fate. Ellis urged the committee to evaluate the standards set forth by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which are not regulated enough to prevent tip-overs.

Furniture tip-over is a more widespread problem than you might realize. According to the CPSC, an estimated annual average (2014-2016) of 9,300 children ages 0-19 were treated in the emergency department for furniture tip-over injuries, not including televisions or appliances. If you include television and other appliances, which were not covered in the bills at the hearing, the number jumps to more than 15,000. From 2000-2016, furniture tip-overs killed 431 children.

These deaths could have been prevented by enforcing stricter safety regulations. The current CPSC regulations do not demand mandatory safety standards for tip-over prevention. The product manufacturing industries are only held to a voluntary standard. Additionally, products under 30 inches tall are exempt from any such safety regulations. However, as found by a Consumer Reports investigation, shorter furniture still causes major tip-over accidents.

The Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth (STURDY) Act would seek to change these standards. The bill would require the CPSC to mandate manufacturers to produce more rigorous testing of their products; to perform more “real-world” testing and to revise consumer warning requirements, ensuring higher standards of product safety and transparency.

The National Consumers League thanks the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee for taking measures to hold industry accountable with regards to product safety standards. One positive message that everyone can take away from this hearing is that times are changing. Industry will be held accountable, and consumers will be protected. It looks like the time for the CPSC to take charge in handling consumer safety and protection–instead of letting industry set its own rules–is just around the corner, to paraphrase Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

Alexa is a student at Washington University in St. Louis where she studies Classics and Anthropology and concentrates in global health and the environment. She expects to graduate in May of 2020

Consumer group calling on Congress to pass Hot Cars Act on Heat Stroke Prevention Day, July 31

July 31, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Washington, DC—Just days after the tragic deaths of one-year-old twins who were accidentally left behind by a parent in a car in the Bronx over the weekend, advocates pointing to today’s observance of Heat Stroke Prevention Day to call attention to a bill in Congress that would mandate new cars come with technology to prevent such tragedies.

The Hot Car Act would require that all new cars come equipped with an alarm system that reminds drivers to check the car after exiting. The bill calls for “a distinct auditory and visual alert to notify individuals inside and outside of the vehicle of the presence of an occupant.” This alarm will only occur when the vehicle senses a physical presence in the back seat.

Heatstroke is the leading cause of deaths in vehicles (excluding crashes) for children 14 years old and younger, according to Consumer Reports. Although some may believe that hot car tragedies could never happen to them, more than 900 children have died in hot cars since 1990, and 17 fatalities have been recorded in 2019 alone, according to safety advocacy group KidsAndCars.org.

“This lifesaving technology is already available, so why wouldn’t we expedite its implementation and allow children and their families to benefit from it?” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Just as we have overcome other dangers in cars–kids dying in trunks, backover accidents, deadly electric car windows–the auto industry now has the technology available to prevent these tragedies. Kids shouldn’t pay with their lives when we can readily fix the problem. The auto industry can do something about this and should.”

The Hot Cars Act alert system follows in the tradition of other essential vehicle alarm systems that have become commonplace for consumers, such as chimes that remind drivers to use a seat belt, indicate that headlights have been left on, or doors have been left ajar.

The alarm system also has relevance beyond the summer months. Sensors and alarms in new cars will also prevent children from being left unattended in dangerously cold temperatures. The proposed technology would also alert pet-owners if their furry friend is about to be left behind.

These hot car deaths have happened for many years to many doting, devoted, and loving parents. Human beings make mistakes, but we now have the technology that can prevent these mistakes and help protect children, so let’s use it,” said Greenberg.

The Senate introduced its version of the bill in May, which was sponsored by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). 

The National Consumers League once again commends Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Peter King(R-NY) for their continued leadership on this issue and urge members of Congress to support this important children’s protection legislation.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL applauds Ryan, Schakowsky, and King for House introduction of Hot Cars Act (HR 3593)

July 8, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, applauds Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Peter King (R-NY) for reintroducing the Hot Cars Act (H.R. 3593) on July 1. By mandating that all new cars come equipped with technology that detects and alerts the presence of a child left in a vehicle, the Hot Cars Act would help stop dozens of tragic and preventable child deaths annually.

The Hot Car Act would require that all new cars come equipped with an alarm system that reminds drivers to check the car after exiting. The bill calls for “a distinct auditory and visual alert to notify individuals inside and outside of the vehicle of the presence of an occupant.” This alarm will only occur when the vehicle senses a physical presence in the back seat.

Heatstroke is the leading cause of deaths in vehicles (excluding crashes) for children 14 years old and younger, according to Consumer Reports. Although some may believe that hot car tragedies could never happen to them, more than 900 children have died in hot cars since 1990, and 17 fatalities have been recorded in 2019 alone, according to safety advocacy group KidsAndCars.org.

“This lifesaving technology is already available, so why wouldn’t we expedite its implementation and allow children and their families to benefit from it?” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg.

The Hot Cars Act alert system follows in the tradition of other essential vehicle alarm systems that have become commonplace for consumers, such as chimes that remind drivers to use a seat belt, indicate that headlights have been left on, or doors have been left ajar.

The alarm system also has relevance beyond the summer months. Sensors and alarms in new cars will also prevent children from being left unattended in dangerously cold temperatures. The proposed technology would also alert pet-owners if their furry friend is about to be left behind.

The Senate introduced its version of the bill in May, which was sponsored by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). 

The National Consumers League once again commends Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Peter King(R-NY) for their continued leadership on this issue and urge members of Congress to support this important children’s protection legislation.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Regulations Can Save Lives, Like Ted’s – National Consumers League

Sarah Aillon, NCL internWritten by National Consumers League Intern Sarah Aillon

The Trump administration is waging war against regulations. In January, President Trump announced in his State of the Union address that “in our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” Since entering Office, the Trump administration rolled back many environmental, and economic regulations which secure the health, safety, and security of the American people. While the Trump Administration boastfully describes these rollbacks as progress, many public protection advocates have sounded their alarms.

Earlier this June, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and Georgetown Law organized a symposium which addressed the threat deregulation poses in the Trump era. Titled, The War on Regulation: Good for Corporations, Bad for the Public, the event featured a wide range of public protection advocates, including the mother of an accident victim, professors, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Their stories prove just how critical many regulations are for individual well-being and what happens when regulations do not monitor dangerous products.

little Ted

Janet McGee, an advocate on the event’s second panel, and described the harrowing death of her 22-month-old son, Ted. In 2016, the toddler was in his room napping. When Janet went in to check on him, she found Ted under a dresser that had fallen on him. Ted was unresponsive and cold but had a faint heartbeat. McGee started CPR and then rushed him to the hospital. Tragically, the boy passed away four short hours after she first found him.

McGee’s story is not outstanding: every 17 minutes someone in the United States is injured by falling furniture, televisions or appliances. These furniture tip-overs kill a child every two weeks.

Voluntary safety standards in the American furniture industry perpetuate the high risk of furniture tip-overs. Voluntary safety standards threaten the consumer’s safety and security. A Consumer Reports investigation tested 24 dressers against the industry’s voluntary safety standards and found only six dressers met the industry’s standards. In response to their findings, Consumer Reports suggested raising the test weight for furniture tip-overs from 50 pounds to 60 pounds and to apply tests to dressers that are 30 inches high and higher. Anchoring dressers to walls with brackets and straps is an effective strategy to prevent the problem, but few consumers are aware of the need to secure their furniture from tip-overs.

Voluntary safety standards make enforcement of furniture safety difficult. Companies can pick and choose what standards they comply with. Voluntary safety standards allow product design to remain poor and increase the threat of injury and death.

Ikea dresser safety diagram

The Ikea dresser responsible for the death of Janet McGee’s son did not meet safety standards. McGee’s Ikea dresser is not the only one from the company to fail their consumers. Over the course of 19 years, 8 children have died from Ikea dressers. As stated by McGee, the longstanding effects of furniture tip-over represent an industry-wide problem. However, with voluntary safety standards, little enforcement or change occurs.

Despite the danger many dressers on the market hold, little has been done to resolve the threat. Safety standards remain voluntary instead of mandatory. “Parents should worry about their children for many reasons, but furniture falling on them should not be one of them,” said McGee. Eventually, Ikea offered to take back 29 million chests and dressers in the Malm line, but very few consumers knew about the recall. Tens of millions of the Malm dressers are thought to still be in use and unsecured today.

McGee’s tragic, cautionary tale is just one example of why consumer regulations are necessary. President Trump’s focus on slashing regulations endanger everyday people, favoring big business at consumers’ expense. Regulatory safeguards enable people to live and work safely. “Strong government rules matter. We cannot, we must not accept a government that works only for a privileged few,” Warren said.

To learn more about furniture tip-over and Janet McGee’s story, click here.

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Sarah Aillon is a rising senior at Dickinson College pursuing dual degrees in Political Science and History. She is passionate about the National Consumers League’s work and is a child labor policy intern with them this summer.

Automobile industry ignoring safety packages – National Consumers League

NCL Public Policy Intern Melissa Cuddington contributed to this post.

In November 22, 2004, Automotive News, the publication that covers the auto industry, ran one of my favorite editorials of all time:

“All safety related devices should become standard equipment on all vehicles. No choice. It’s not an economic decision; it’s a moral decision. When the choice becomes profit vs. lives, the decision should be simple.”

This issue is more pertinent now than ever. The National Consumers League strongly supports enhanced auto safety technologies and, like the quote above says, it’s a moral decision to make safety technologies standard equipment. Case in point: driver-assist technology, has been available for about a decade in the United States. It includes automatic breaking, lane-changing aids, and cruise control, each of which has made driving safer.

One would think that these driver-assist programs would be included in “standard safety packages,” but they are not. As such, it’s sad to read that the auto industry is doing a poor job marketing and selling these systems. According to the Wall Street Journal, salespeople are apparently not being properly trained to discuss the benefits of these safety technologies. In a recent survey done by the MIT AgeLab, only six out of 17 car sellers were able to explain the safety technologies. In fact, many car salespeople say they don’t have the knowledge or the time to explain these packages. Car sellers are not incentivized to explain these technologies because they drive up the cost of the car and take “excessive” time in the showroom. What a loss! Thirty percent of traffic accidents and fatalities could be avoided if the majority of cars had these standard safety packages, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

This lack of enthusiasm for selling the safety that exists today is ironic. Automobile manufacturers are trying to rush through Congress a bill that gives nearly carte blanche for the deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) with little regulation. Safety is one of the top reasons AVs are being touted by the auto industry as a means for greatly reducing auto injuries. But we are skeptical; just look how industry gives short shrift to the safety devices we have access to now!

There are notable exceptions. NCL applauds carmakers Honda Motor Co., Subaru Corporation, and Toyota Motor Corporation for their plans to include safety packages in their standard car models, such as the 2019 Subaru Ascent and the 2018 Honda Accord. These companies have also made a concerted effort to keep prices down for models featuring the safety technology. We’d like to see them and their competitors expand these features to their whole fleet.

We urge the automobile industry take a second look at the cost of these driver-assist packages that aren’t standard equipment, to train their sales force to sell these lifesaving packages, and—most importantly—to start to include these safety packages in standard car models. Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between affordability and safety. Like Automotive News said nearly 15 years ago, “All safety-related devices should become standard equipment on all vehicles.”