U.S. will ban drop-side cribs amid safety concerns

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 22, 2010

They've been a fixture in millions of American homes since the 1940s, used by parents, then passed down to friends and relatives. Now the federal government is moving to ban drop-side cribs, saying that the nursery furniture with a moveable side poses lethal dangers to children.

By the end of 2010, it will be illegal to sell a drop-side crib. And public places such as daycare centers and hotels will be prohibited from using them, federal officials said. Under rules being developed, violators would face a range of penalties, from an order to stop use to criminal sanctions for repeat offenders.

Drop-side cribs, which have one side that lowers to allow caregivers easy access to a baby or toddler, have caused at least 32 deaths in the United States since 2000, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Another 14 fatalities might be related to drop-side cribs, but investigators lacked information to make a clear link, according to agency officials.

"There have been few too many recalls and far too many deaths from defective cribs in recent years," said Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A crib is meant to be safe enough to leave a child unattended; when it malfunctions, the infant is usually alone.

Since 2005, more than 7 million drop-side cribs have been recalled by manufacturers because of suffocation and strangulation hazards, including 2 million StorkCraft cribs last year, the largest single product recall in CPSC history.

It is unclear whether manufacturing changes have made the cribs more dangerous or whether the government has gotten better at pinpointing the cause of infant deaths.

Many deaths associated with drop-side cribs occurred when the moveable side partly detached, trapping the infant between the mattress and wood slats of the crib. In some cases, caregivers unwittingly installed the drop side incorrectly. In other cases, the crib hardware apparently failed and the side detached.

The crib industry says that drop-side cribs are not inherently hazardous.

"When these products are used correctly, they're perfectly safe," said Mike Dwyer, executive director of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which represents about 90 percent of crib manufacturers. "Many of these incidents involved improper assembly. There are a lot of second-hand cribs sold through garage sales, thrift stores, and that's a problem. They have missing hardware or missing instructions . . . Some parents and caregivers are using bailing wire and duct tape."

Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger, a non-profit organization that works to improve the safety of children's products, said the fact that a crib can be assembled incorrectly is a design flaw, not the fault of the caregiver. And problems with drop-side cribs started growing after manufacturers switched to lighter, less-expensive materials, she said.

"I had all three of my kids in a drop-side crib," said Cowles, whose youngest child is now 16. "But they were different then. I think with the efforts to make cribs sleeker and the switch to more plastic, we've ended up with more drop sides that can't hold up to the use."

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