For years safety advocates pushed for the idea of easy-to-use product registration cards for durable infant and toddler products to help notify consumers when a recall was issued. That day has finally arrived and two of the leaders of that effort for well over a decade got to be part of the bittersweet announcement today.
University of Chicago professors Linda Ginzel and Boaz Keysar created the now-influential child safety advocacy group Kids In Danger after their son Danny (pictured right) was killed in 1998 in a portable crib at a daycare center. The owners and even a state inspector who had examined the center just prior to his death did not know about the recall. Danny was the fifth child to die in a Playskool Travel Lite portable crib.
"If there had been a product registration card with this portable crib and if the manufacturer had used it to contact the owner, my son would be alive today," Ginzel said. "But more important is the fact that that deadly crib would never have been on the market at all, if it had been independently tested to strong mandatory standards. This is what is now required by law and this is Danny's real legacy -- that products must be tested for safety before they are sold. We believe that this will help save other families from suffering a tragedy as senseless as we have endured since the death of our son."
I first talked to the couple in 1999 while spending a year investigating why the product recall system was so ineffective. The idea for the cards was advanced back then and earlier. That it took this long is ridiculous. And while a potentially big boost to child product safety, it certainly doesn't close all the gaps.
The system, while finally getting needed improvements (such as requiring children's products to be tested for safety), is still strikingly full of holes. Each tool, whether it's the registration cards (and an accompanying online option) or signing up to be emailed recalls from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requires some degree of participation from parents and caregivers.
On top of that, they have to pay attention. You can't legislate paying attention. But you can see that the owner of automobiles that are recalled get notified because their names are on file with the manufacturer. This brings children's products a step closer to that.
"We were speaking mostly from our hearts and from common sense," Ginzel said at the news conference. "Most people didn't believe us after we told them that products aren't tested before they're sold ... Now the law requires that products be independently tested before they are sold."
Another big change under current law that could have helped Danny was that products recalled cannot be resold and cribs labeled as dangerous cannot be used in childcare facilities or hotels. Awareness is lot greater now than it was then.
The system, largely predicated on companies coming forward to report problems with their own products, has more teeth now and companies appear to be more actively complying with the laws than they were a decade or more ago. Many avoided notifying the CPSC of the problems and then took a passive approach to the recalls.
Keysar said businesses can earn points by behaving just the opposite.
"I think that manufacturers can gain trust from consumers if they put money behind reaching a customer about a product that is dangerous," he said.
"I'm here today to thank Kids In Danger and CFA for advocating for product registration cards for nursery products," CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said at the Chicago news conference. "Our research shows that when consumers are directly notified about recalls they are more likely to respond. Product registration cards are now mandatory, and I believe they will help keep children safe."
Rachel Weintraub, director of Product Safety at the Consumer Federation of America, urged parents to fill out the cards or online registration forms.
"Today we are marking a huge leap forward in product safety: children's products are required to be tested before they are sold and product registration cards are now required for many infant and durable products," she said. "Product registration will only be effective if consumers fill out the new product registration cards. Consumer information will be kept private and will allow companies to contact consumers if there is a product recall. Filling out these cards can save a child's life."
Consumer Ally writer Alysse Dalessandro in Chicago contributed to this report.
What's your investing game plan?View Course »