Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Drawstrings and the Nanny State

    On Tuesday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a recall of some children's hooded sweatshirts due to "strangulation hazard."  The danger?  Drawstrings.

    As noted on the CPSC website, "Federal law bars any person from selling products subject to a publicly-announced voluntary recall by a manufacturer or a mandatory recall ordered by the Commission," and also, "It is illegal to resell or attempt to resell a recalled consumer product."
    Lest anyone misunderstand, I get that it is possible for such drawstrings to cause harm.  And yet the bottom line is that the federal government has criminalized a piece of clothing, or at least its sale or resale.  Are not warnings enough anymore? Is caveat emptor obsolete?  Must our government continually save us from ourselves?
    While pondering these questions, I decided to tweet the link and see if anyone else was pondering what I was pondering: "So, did everyone know that it is *illegal* to sell children's hoodies that have drawstrings?"  Much to my surprise, within minutes I received a reply from the CPSC:

    Whether the Twitter account of the CPSC is monitored or somehow generates automated tweets I do not know.  But the article to which the CPSC linked reads in part as follows:
Drawstrings can catch on items such as playground equipment or vehicle doors. CPSC has received 26 reports of children who have died when drawstrings in their clothes got tangled on playground slides, school bus doors and other objects. Waist and bottom drawstrings that were caught in cars and buses resulted in dragging incidents. 
CPSC first issued guidelines on drawstrings in February 1996. These were then incorporated into a voluntary standard in 1997. Since the clothing industry started following the voluntary standard, deaths involving neck or hood drawstrings  decreased by 75 percent and there have been no deaths associated with waist or bottom drawstrings. 
Still, we continue to see jackets, sweatshirts, and sweaters made with drawstrings that are dangerous. CPSC has issued more than 130 recalls involving clothes with drawstrings including 8 recalls between November 2011 and May 8, 2012. Here are some recalls from  just the past month (as of publication of this blog). So, check your child’s upper outerwear and make sure to follow the instructions on these recalls.
    So even after voluntary steps by the industry resulted in a 75% reduction in fatalities, the CPSC took the more drastic step of an outright ban.  But, one might argue, if it prevents the death of one child, it's worth it.  But isn't it possible our reliance on government to manage our safety in such minute ways has resulted in a more careless, less responsible society?
    Since the CPSC responded to my initial tweet, I attempted to continue the dialogue with a follow up. Having four children myself, I believe there is a clothing accessory that has endangered my children far more often than any drawstring: shoelaces.  I cannot find reliable statistics, but any parent could testify of the hazards of untied shoes.  So I asked the CPSC:

    So far, I have not received a reply.  Hopefully I haven't given them any ideas.  But just in case, I'm putting all my investment dollars into Velcro.

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