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Reflections on Product Safety Impacts of the Government Shutdown

With the government back to work, at least for 3 weeks, now is a good time to reflect on the impact of the shutdown, in the hope that history will not repeat itself in this instance.  We have all heard stories of the personal and financial toll the government shutdown had on federal workers, contractors and their families.  In addition to the 800,000 federal workers directly impacted by the government shutdown, we also know that there was collateral damage to our economy, national security and public safety. 

One of the Agencies impacted by the shutdown was the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  CPSC protects the public from dangerous products by promulgating standards and, when necessary, working with industry to remove dangerous products from the market.   During the shutdown, however, regulatory activity at the CPSC came to a screeching halt.  That means the hard-working and dedicated people who inspect for dangerous imports, who supervise recalls of harmful products and who write and update standards to regulate the safety of products were not at their duty stations protecting public safety.   

Here’s just one example of how the shutdown may have cost lives.  It involves bicycle helmets.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) data shows that every year more than 100 people are killed in bicycle crashes (typically a bicycle/moving vehicle collision) even though the rider is wearing a bicycle helmet.  There is a superior head protection device that is currently on the market in Europe called Hövding.  It is an airbag bicycle helmet that performs far superior to the traditional shell helmets.   Testing shows that the Hövding virtually eliminates the risk of serious head injury in the event of a crash.   Indeed, to date there have been over 100,000 Hövdings sold in Europe and Japan; with about 4,000 reported deployments, there have been zero reported serious head injuries.  Imagine how many lives could be saved if the more than 100 people who would otherwise be killed in a crash this year were able to replace their shell helmets with Hövdings.  Unfortunately, the Hövding cannot be legally sold in the U.S. because  the CPSC regulations include a test protocol for bicycle helmets that was promulgated long before the life-saving Hövding was invented.

Here is where the government shutdown is may have cost lives.  There is a Petition pending before the CPSC that would exempt the Hövding from certain elements of the CPSC test protocol that have nothing to do with the Hövding’s performance, provided that the Hövding complies with the more applicable European standard.  Prior to the shutdown, Hövding was optimistic that CPSC would act favorably on the Petition soon, and Americans would have access to this life-saving product.  Unfortunately, the shutdown likely delayed the introduction of the Hövding to the U.S. market.  Based in IHHS statistics, we know that any delays liklely will cost lives of American cyclists.

Hövding is pleased that the government has reopened so that the CPSC can get back to work protecting public safety. This sentiment is shared by so many.

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