A Precautionary Tale

Over the weekend, I was having coffee with a long-time friend who told me about her daughter, a young woman in her early twenties who recently had her first baby. This new mother—with no college degree and a job that pays just above minimum wage—has very limited financial resources available to support her family. So, she regularly shops at second-hand stores, consignment shops, and the local Goodwill Store. Just before the baby was born, she went out to purchase a crib. She quickly realized that she could not afford the many hundreds of dollars needed to buy a new crib, so she started to scour the second-hand market. Her search came up empty.

I had to tell my friend that her daughter could not find a second-hand crib because the CPSC basically outlawed selling them. The CPSC has put in place a new safety standard for cribs and, by the law’s terms, all cribs, regardless of when they were made or where they are sold, must meet these new standards. Because the standard is fairly new, cribs meeting the new standard have not yet cycled down to the resale market. And because of the standard, the new cribs are quite expensive, so they will probably be used for a long time before they are available to be bought second-hand. Therefore, those consumers who count on the resale market for their basic needs—such as a crib—are out of luck.

My friend told me that her daughter ended up spending $25 to buy a used play yard as a substitute for the crib she could not find. One of its sides is broken but it has been mended with a metal rod and tape. Since she cannot afford a new crib, she’s trying to make do with the play yard until her child can move into a toddler bed. Other parents who can’t afford new cribs and can’t find second-hand ones might instead have their infants sleep next to them in an adult bed, which is at least as hazardous as the risks we were trying to address in our crib regulation.

This conversation led me to wonder if we as Commissioners are doing as much as we should to consider the full consequences of our decisions. Of course, those who rely on the second-hand market should be just as protected from unsafe products as those who buy new at retail, but we declared anything but the newest cribs unsafe, when that wasn’t the case. At least some older cribs were safe even if they hadn’t had the level of testing the new rule required. Even some of the unsafe drop-side cribs could be made safe with retrofits, but we didn’t leave that option.

Most of our actions involve taking away choices, either directly or indirectly. Sometimes, that’s exactly what should happen, when the choices are ones that unreasonably harm consumers. But, as the situation my friend’s daughter faced demonstrates, we have to be careful not to take away so many that all we leave are even worse choices.

7 Responses to “A Precautionary Tale”

  1. 1 Joyce Davis March 25, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Nancy – Hope all is well with you.

    I just read the article “A Precautionary Tale” and KBS would be happy to supply your friend with a new crib that meets the current standards. Please provide me with your friends contact info.

    Let me know how best to proceed. Hope to see you soon.



    • 2 Nancy Nord March 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Joyce, thanks for your response. I will be happy to pass along your information to my friend. However the reason I wanted to post this blog is that I am so concerned about the lack of available cribs in the second hand market because of the way the CPSC crafted the crib rule. While I have long had great respect for your group and am a supporter of your efforts, the problem is one that the agency created by its lack of creativity both in failing to recognize the problem and in not doing anything to address it.

  2. 3 Nancy Cowles March 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Commissioner Nord, I just read your recent blog post on the lack of second-hand cribs with dismay. Not only for the information about older cribs, but for the tale of the baby sleeping in a play yard with a broken side-rail. You do realize the number of babies who have been killed by that very defect? If you or your friend can’t afford to help this young mother by a safe play yard (they have been tested to be safe for overnight sleep and are a great alternative to a full-size crib), please refer her to Cribs For Kids (Cribsforkids.org) to get a low cost, safe sleep environment for her baby. I have passed your story on to them.

    • 4 Nancy Nord March 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      Nancy, thanks for your response to my recent blog. Of course I advised my friend about the safety implications of using a play yard, especially a “repaired” one, as a substitute for a crib. However, the point is that cribs are not available in the second hand market and those who have the need are not likely to reach out to groups like Keeping Babies Safe and Cribs for Kids, assuming that those groups could even meet the demand. The retroactive nature of the law and the agency’s lack of (1) understanding the problem and (2) taking any creative approaches to solving the problem ends up putting those who are the least able to recognize the safety implications of their choices at the most risk. The fact that someone I know had this experience brought home to me the fact that this is not an isolated incident. And it reinforces my concern that this agency, as it worked to address one safety concern, ended up creating another, which it now neither acknowledges or tries to solve.

  1. 1 More Than Just Listening | Conversations with Consumers Trackback on July 30, 2013 at 9:07 am
  2. 2 More unintended consequences. « Whipped Cream Difficulties Trackback on March 28, 2013 at 10:06 am
  3. 3 Talking used cribs - Overlawyered Trackback on March 27, 2013 at 3:30 pm

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