- - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

“You can never be too safe,” goes the old saying. But how much are we willing to empty our pockets to be as safe as government insists?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is about to make home decorating more expensive. Pushed by activists in the name of child safety, the CPSC is poised to outlaw most window blinds that are sold today. Each year Americans buy about 150 million units of window blinds and shades. CPSC regulators claim that banning cords from these products could save 11 lives a year, avoiding strangulation accidents with toddlers.

The CPSC will make its decision after a public comment period that started January 16 and ends March 17.

Buried deep within the commission’s paperwork is a staff calculation that having to buy cordless shades could cost consumers an extra $2 to $9 per purchase. Of the 150 million units sold each year, at least 75 percent now have cords, which provide convenience in adjusting the shade. So a ban could cost consumers a collective $225 million to $1 billion per year.

But CPSC analysts calculate that banning cords might provide “societal” benefits of $110.7 million per year. They adopt Environmental Protection Agency math that each child’s life should be valued at $8.4 million apiece. Then the CPSC added “potential” medical savings from preventing about 17 additional injuries per year to reach its $110.7 million projection.

Losing a child is horrible, but does the CPSC have the right perspective for balancing costs and benefits for a country of 320 million people, with 74 million minors and 24 million toddlers (up to age 5)?


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This is the same CPSC that is about to send Christmas light prices soaring with new restrictions because one person a year (out of, again, 320 million of us) gets him- or herself electrocuted — usually by doing something dumb.

The 11 annual deaths from young children’s strangling on looped cords are among 9,000 children — up to age 17 — who each year suffer accidental death in America. Deaths from window blinds are one-tenth of 1 percent of those accidental deaths.

For comparison, about 17-25 children die from toys each year (such as choking on a small toy or balloon). And 20 to 40 drown from falling into small buckets. Plus more drown in bathtubs and even toilets. About 130 are killed in bicycle accidents. But almost half the accidental child deaths are due to auto accidents. Accidental deaths from guns are 134 and gun homicides are 1,790 of 2,808 child murders. (These figures come from the CPSC and/or the Centers for Disease Control and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)

We all want to protect children, but is banning everyday products the way to do it? Window-covering manufacturers obey voluntary safety standards which the CPSC notes are almost universally honored. Those standards include product-warning labels to caution parents about keeping small children away from the cords.

How is the CPSC commissioned by law to consider the issue? The request for action came from several activist groups, including Parents for Window Blind Safety, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Kids in Danger, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.

The CPSC’s governing statute charges the agency to act in situations when it is “reasonably necessary to prevent or reduce an unreasonable risk of injury associated with [a consumer product].” The law never defines what is an unreasonable risk. And CPSC officials agree that child safety was greatly improved when the industry began adopting voluntary standards back in the 1990s. The industry even assisted a 2009 recall of 50 million items.

Since window blinds are now safer than ever, should government create a $1 billion expense to consumers by dictating a fundamental change in a classic design? Venetian window blinds, with their cords to adjust or eliminate the light, came to the American colonies in the 1760s, according to scholars at North Carolina State University.

“If it saves only one life, then it’s worth it,” is the mantra uttered in these situations. But how much will be lost if America spends an extra $1 billion a year to buy government-approved window blinds? Some families would have used their share of that $1 billion to buy a safer car, or get their kids’ teeth fixed, or install a home-security system, or maybe to take the family trip that keeps a family intact and prevents a lifetime of problems. Nobody knows what the trade-offs actually are.

Is it unreasonable to ban a design that the public has embraced for 350 years, and suddenly to deem it dangerous? Or is this mostly a decision being ruled by emotions and signaling sympathy for those who have suffered the loss of a child?

We also should cry for the families who cannot make ends meet because government regulations make everything more expensive: utility bills, health care costs, college costs, automobile costs, and appliance costs. And even higher prices for home decor like Christmas lights and window blinds.

Ernest Istook is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. Get his free email newsletter by signing up at eepurl.com/JPojD.

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