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Why the Consumer Product Safety Commission Matters
Paulson & Nace
(202) 463-1999

Many have heard about the recent product defect with the Britax Child Safety jogging stroller. The Washington Post reports that

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.

The physical injuries are horrific. The parental guilt must be traumatic. Imagine running with your baby, and suddenly, without warning, you are flying in the air, face first, trying not to land on your infant or toddler who has been launched from the jogger. After picking yourself up, your attention quickly focuses on your crying child. After scurrying across the ground, you find your baby bleeding, or your toddle with cracked teeth. The anguish is beyond question.

When one product breaks, it can be a fluke. When two have the same faulty wheel, you raise an eyebrow. But when hundreds fail in the same way, it is a defective product. How does the public become aware of defects? How do we make sure that people aren’t unnecessarily hurt in Boston from a defect that has caused multiple injuries in Los Angeles?

One way is through the work of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As the Post reported:

Staff members at the Consumer Product Safety Commission collected 200 consumer-submitted reports from 2012 to 2018 of spontaneous failure of the stroller wheel, which is secured to a front fork by a quick-release lever, like on a bicycle. Nearly 100 adults and children were injured, according to the commission. The agency’s staff members investigated for months before deciding in 2017 that one of the most popular jogging strollers on the market was unsafe and needed to be recalled.

In this case, the manufacturer of the stroller, Britax, didn’t want to issue a recall. So the CPRC sued them:

The agency didn’t back down. It sued to force a recall in February 2018. Britax kept fighting. That was unusual. Companies normally want to avoid public clashes with safety regulators, according to past and current agency staff members.

Unfortunately, the leadership changed at the CPSC. For the first time in a decade, pro-business, anti-consumer Republicans controlled the oversight commission of the CPSC.

According to a review of documents by The Washington Post and interviews with eight current and former senior agency officials, the agency’s Republican chairwoman kept Democratic commissioners in the dark about the stroller investigation and then helped end the case in court. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity because of agency rules against discussing cases.

The agency has historically been a leader in protecting children, passing strict limits on lead in children’s toys and ending the sale of deadly drop-side cribs. Its lawsuit against Britax ended in November with a settlement, approved by a 3-to-2 commission vote reflecting the new Republican majority. In a rare written dissent, the panel’s two Democrats called the settlement “aggressively misleading” for seeking to downplay the risks to consumers.

The fact is government agencies and who leads them makes a difference in people’s lives. Sometimes we attack our government as bloated and wonder what they do. But the CPSC is an example of an agency that affects consumers throughout America. The story of the Britax stroller is just one of many examples showing how the Consumer Product Safety Commission can, and cannot, protect our families.

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