Wheel-dropping strollers and cars ablaze: Watchdog agencies retreat from protecting the public

cpscIt may sound catchy when politicians claim to want to get Uncle Sam out of our wallets and off our backs. But the deregulatory reality may look different when hundreds of thousands of baby strollers have front wheels that suddenly fall off, or millions of family cars may be at risk of bursting into flames.

The Washington Post has dug deep into how a case involving the BOB, a British-made, three-wheeled stroller, illustrates how the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has become more industry friendly and turned away from vigorous protections for ordinary Americans.

The political party in power, aka the Republicans, not only get to fill commission openings, they also take over the important chair of the panel. That leader sets the tone and often pushes fellow party members on the commission to hew to it. The GOP has controlled the commission for the first time in a decade, and Republican chair Ann Marie Buerkle is making herself felt in agency actions.

That may explain how 200 recorded complaints, with 100 reported injuries involving youngsters and adults, resulted in stroller-maker Britax settling a CPSC case. It won’t recall its product, nor must it follow a formal federal corrective plan for it. But the firm will conduct a public information campaign and provide purchasers with options to replace parts that were criticized by commission staff. As the Washington Post reported of the popular BOB device that cost hundreds of dollars:

The crashes were brutal. With no warning, the front wheel on the three-wheeled BOB jogging strollers fell off, causing the carriages to careen and even flip over. Adults shattered bones. They tore ligaments. Children smashed their teeth. They gashed their faces. One child bled from his ear canal.

Democrats on the commission and critics of the agency were aghast over the Britax decision. It is in keeping, the newspaper found, with the new record the CPSC is establishing after earlier earning praise for its watchdog role in cases involving the safety of kids’ toys and cribs. As the Washington Post reported of commission cases under GOP control:

In Buerkle’s first two years as chairwoman, the number of companies fined for misconduct declined to five in 2017-2018 from 12 in 2015-2016. Public voluntary recalls fell about 13 percent during the same period, resulting in approximately 80 fewer recalls, according to agency data. Last year, the number of public recalls fell to its lowest level in a decade, consumer advocates say.

The Washington Post article details the human toll on families, parents, and tots involved in complaints about the stroller. Britax insists its product is and was sound, and it notes that it met all U.S. rules.

Flaming cars

In a separate product safety matter, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it has launched new investigations into cars made by Hyundai and its Kia affiliate after “reports of thousands of fires and ­­more than 100 injuries and one death,” NPR reported.

The Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group, prodded NHTSA to probe problems in as many as 3 million cars from the Korean makers, who have been dogged with concerns about non-collision fires in their vehicles. The makers have insisted their products are safe and say they are assisting investigators.

“It is long past time for the full power of the federal government to be brought to bear to answer why so many thousands of Kia and Hyundai vehicles have been involved in non-crash fires,” Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety commented on NHTSA’s decision to investigate the issue, six months after the consumer group petitioned it to do so.

State and federal prosecutors are investigating the automakers to see if they engaged in unfair or deceptive acts in connection with the blazes in the vehicles, which have been under scrutiny since 2007 for their combustion risk. A South Korean whistleblower alerted NHTSA to problems with the cars in 2016. Millions of them have been recalled and the makers are offering software upgrades for many of the affected cars. The models include the Optima, Sorento, Sonata, Santa Fe, Soul lines.

In my practice, I not only assist patients who have suffered injury while seeking medical services, I and my partners in the firm have helped consumers harmed by defective products, or hurt in incidents involving cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

Let’s set politics aside. With all we know about the injury-causing capacities of products to make youngsters mobile, it’s unacceptable for federal safety officials to be lax in safeguarding kids and getting problem devices off the market. In similar fashion, multiple federal and other agencies have amassed big data on vehicle fires and their prevention, so why would regulators have any hesitation to protect U.S. motorists (and, of course, first-responders needing to deal with car fires)? Good golly, these agencies have consumer and safety in their very names, so officials need to heed that prime directive, get busy, and keep their priorities straight.

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