NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with Washington Post reporter Todd Frankel about how the acting chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission helped Britax, a stroller company, avoid a forced recall.
NPR reached out to Britax and the company provided this statement.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The company Britax says its BOB jogging strollers are meant to take families to the zoo today, trail tomorrow and all that's in between. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says nearly 100 adults and children over the past five years have been injured on those journeys. At first, the CPSC pushed hard for a recall. But what happened next may say as much about the federal safety agency today as it does about the strollers.
Todd Frankel wrote about this for The Washington Post. Welcome to the program.
TODD FRANKEL: Thank you.
CORNISH: So what originally did the Consumer Product Safety Commission say was wrong with this stroller?
FRANKEL: They were concerned about the front wheel of the stroller. It's a three-wheeled stroller, and they were concerned with the wheel falling off suddenly. It's attached to the stroller with a quick release, the same thing that attaches the wheels on bicycles. And so parents would be out running, jogging with their strollers, their kid in the middle. And the wheel would spontaneously fall off.
CORNISH: So the agency spent months investigating. And in 2017, they decided that Britax should recall the stroller, that it wasn't safe. And they even sued to try and force the company to recall the stroller. Tell us why that didn't happen.
FRANKEL: The leadership changed. You know, during this period while this case was being litigated, the commissioners went from a Democratic majority to Republican majority, and they had a different viewpoint on how to pursue this case.
CORNISH: What was their viewpoint? How did they approach it? And what did Britax do in reaction?
FRANKEL: It's about a philosophical difference about how you deal with regulation and how you approach businesses on this topic. I think they wanted a more cooperative approach, and that meant settling more with what Britax sought in the end as a resolution. And in the end, we saw that with the settlement that did not include a recall and instead had this education campaign and offer of discounts or new parts for some users.
CORNISH: So what did that mean if you had one of these strollers? What were you told? And was it as effective as there being a recall?
FRANKEL: It's very different than a recall. Recall - it has the agency participate. It has the company labeling this a recall. Consumers are now trained to pay attention to the word recall. This was not called a recall. Britax was very proud of that point - that this was not a recall. And so it got less attention. And, you know, it's still very early, but from people I've heard from, consumer advocates and some commissioners are worried that this will be less effective.
CORNISH: What's the message that you think this episode sends to other companies who might find themselves in the same place as Britax - right? - being asked to do a voluntary recall?
FRANKEL: Yeah. I heard from commissioners at the agency who are worried that this sets a new precedent, right? So traditionally when the agency came to a company and said, listen; we think there's a defect here, companies were encouraged to and willing to cooperate and recall a product for public safety. And now I think there's a worry that - already they're seeing more resistance, less willingness to work with the agency and seeing that, you know, maybe we don't have to do recall; we can just follow this new product pattern.
CORNISH: This is a popular stroller. So what are parents saying now?
FRANKEL: Putting aside the legal arguments or political arguments about how this agency should've dealt with this product, you know, parents just want their kids to be safe. I've heard from lots of parents who feel betrayed, who are upset, who are confused about what to do now.
CORNISH: Todd Frankel is an enterprise reporter on The Washington Post's financial desk. Thank you for sharing your reporting with us.
FRANKEL: Oh, thank you.
CORNISH: We reached out to Britax and they told NPR it did not agree to the recall because its strollers were, quote, "not defective and were safe when used as instructed." The head of the commission, Ann Marie Buerkle, told us it approved the settlement based on staff's recommendation keeping in mind, quote, "the agency's experience in valuing a settlement much sooner than a prolonged, protracted and uncertain lawsuit." She says parents should take part in Britax's education campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.