National Consumers League

From the Experts Blog

NCL staff is hard at work for you playing watchdog on a variety of issues. Get to know the latest From the Experts!

Kids and Cars Bill Will Protect Young Children From Being Backed Over and Killed

img_1571.jpgby Sally Greenberg, Executive Director

For years, safety advocates have been working to protect young children from being killed behind vehicles driving in reverse because the driver can’t adequately see the space behind the cars they are backing up. Late this afternoon, a bill to address this deadly hazard – which routinely kills two children a week, according to the group KIDS AND CARS – overcame a major hurdle, passing the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously. The Senate Commerce Committee passed a similar measure several months ago.

The biggest danger comes with the very largest of vehicles: SUVs and pickup trucks. While every car has a blind zone, the larger vehicles tend to have much wider and longer ones. Consumer Reports, where I worked for a decade and lobbied to get this bill passed before coming to the National Consumers League, measures all blind areas behind every vehicle they test. CR has measured blind zones as long as 69 feet, longer than many driveways. This means that, when a driver is sitting in the car about to put it in reverse, she can’t see anything behind her for 69 feet and as much as 7 feet wide. Clearly an accident waiting to happen. Small children run out after Mommy or Daddy, Grandpa or Grandma, without being seen and end up behind the car, in a blind spot. You know the rest. The tragedy is devastating: often the parent is the one who backs over the child, and it often happens in their own driveway.

The bill passed in the House Committee today – sponsored by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Congressman Peter King (R-NY), (the bill bears the name of his young constituent, Cameron Gulbransen, a victim of backover). Like its Senate counterpart, sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator John Sununu (R-NH), the bill will require that every vehicle meet a standard for rear visibility in the next few years allowing drivers to detect objects behind them, that every vehicle require that its brake be depressed if it is to shift into gear, preventing young children from playing with a gear shift and setting a car in motion (because they can’t reach the brake pedal, typically), and calling for data collection by the federal government for these types of nontraffic, noncrash incidents, which are not systematically tracked now by the government.

FDA Says No Thanks to OTC Statin

By NCL Staff

At a public hearing last week, the Food and Drug Administration heard a variety of opinions about the possibility of a cholesterol-lowering prescription drug being made available in an over-the-counter, non-prescription form. After the hearing, the agency held a vote, and the verdict is in: Mevacor will not become an OTC drug, and consumers will continue to have to go to their doctors for diagnosing and treatment of cholesterol – at least for now.

Over the years, the FDA has granted OTC status to other Rx drugs, like medications for heartburn, yeast infections, and other conditions consumers can self-treat. The FDA weighs the pros and cons, including risks of side effects, consumers’ ability to self-diagnose and monitor, and other safety issues. We wanted to know what consumers would think of an OTC statin, so we surveyed adults with moderately-risky cholesterol levels to find out. We told FDA committee members at the public hearing last week that the consumers surveyed had mixed opinions. Many said they’d be interested in the OTC version, but some others thought that they’d prefer to have a doctor’s prescription to treat their cholesterol. Turns out, as we expected, that OTC drugs are seen as safer and Rx drugs are seen as more trustworthy. Interesting stuff!

Now that the FDA has made its ruling, consumers who want to treat their cholesterol without having to go to the doctor first will just have to wait. There’s definitely a plus side to this ruling: FDA advisers noted that at $1 to $1.50 a day, an over-the-counter version would cost more for the insured than the typical $4 to $15 for a month's supply of prescription statins.

Federal Reserve Chair Gives Shout-out to LifeSmarts

by NCL staff We just found out that, in a Nov. 29 speech given at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, gave a shout-out to LifeSmarts! He was praising the Charlotte Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond for its local efforts to advance financial literacy, and he included our LifeSmarts program in a list of partnerships the Branch has engaged. You go, LifeSmarts! Read the speech!

Charity Scams Tugging at Our Heartstrings – and Wallets

By Sally Greenberg, Executive Director

It’s that time of year again, when you can’t hit the mall without running into at least one bell-ringer bundled up in the cold outside a storefront, seeking donations from consumers. It’s nice to know that Americans are such a charitable bunch. According to an MSNBC story by our friend Herb Weisbaum, we are expected to donate about $300 billion to charity this year, half of which will be contributed between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Isn't that wonderful?

It’s a great time of year to donate. One NCL staffer has found a local DC charity that needs donations of toys for kids this month that we all plan to give to. (Lead-free ones, of course.) But consumers do need to be careful, especially right now, about the possibility that a charitable solicitation may be fraudulent. This time of year, when both legitimate and fraudulent charities will try to tug at our heartstrings, we need to remember to watch for some warning signs like high-pressure tactics or the “charity” not being registered. The Better Business Bureau has a Wise Giving Alliance that can help you identify a good charity, and the National Center for Responsible Philanthropy helps keep charities accountable about what portion of their funding goes to the services they provide.

Wake up, Congress! Wal-Mart Pressure on Chinese Suppliers Making Toys Less Safe

by National Consumers League staff

It turns out that more than 70 percent of the merchandise on Wal-Mart's shelves come from China. If Wal-Mart were a country, the retail giant would be China’s sixth largest trading partner. That's ahead of Germany and England.

This is particularly interesting -- and particularly during this time of year -- because it also controls about a-third of America’s toy market, making it the number one seller of toys in the United States. It's even bigger than stores that specialize in the sale of toys. We learned recently that Wal-Mart is the #1 customer for each of the four companies that have issued major toy recalls in 2007. These four companies -- Mattel, Hasbro, RC2 Corporation, and Graco - have recalled a combined 13 million toys in the past 10 months.

During the holiday shopping season, this toy safety fiasco is scarier than ever for millions of parents in the United States who may be worried about the toys their children are going to receive as gifts in the coming weeks.

We think it's intense pressure from toy retailers like Wal-Mart to continually shave costs on the manufacturing side that may have contributed to the diminished quality and safety of the toys that American consumers buy. We want Congress to take a closer look at this issue and consider what can be done to protect consumers, especially children, from the consequences of this relentless pressure on toy manufacturers.

We signed on to a letter that was sent today by and Wal-Mart Watch, joining other leading consumer and environmental groups, to North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, who chairs the Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade & Tourism, asking him to call for hearings on Wal-Mart’s pressure on Chinese suppliers.