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Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

The Helmet Update by email

Volume 21, #4 - September 9, 2003

All issues index

CPSC announces recall of Tony Hawk skate-style helmets.

CPSC Studies Recall Effectiveness

Today CPSC concluded a series of three workshops on Recall Effectiveness. They focussed on barriers to more effective recalls, best practices, how to improve the amount of product retrieved and how to measure success. We covered the meetings because helmet recalls are typically not very effective and seldom get a significant percentage of the helmets back.

There were no fireworks at the meetings. CPSC seemed to be trying to educate the companies, lawyers and consultants attending as much as elicit new ideas. All panels agreed that recalls vary in effectiveness depending on the product, threat of injury, purchase price and willingness of the manufacturer to offer incentives. Some manufacturers or retailers have extensive databases to contact buyers, but even if the message gets to them, busy consumers often just pitch the defective product rather than deal with the recall. Current recalls for products under $100 are doing well to get 20 to 30 per cent of the product back. A study of one recall of $300 cameras showed that 30 per cent of the buyers just trashed them. This matches the unwillingness to deal with rebate coupons, redeemed by only 15 per cent if they are $5 or under, and only 50 per cent if they are for $50.

With consumers trashing the product, how do you measure success? Someone needs to do some in-depth analysis of individual recalls to find out what is happening. Panel members repeatedly said CPSC should use its experience with recalls to resolve the measurement question and distill the best practices. CPSC replied that they could not do so with their current database, could not afford to do so with their budget constraints, and did not understand why manufacturers with big budgets who were spending big bucks on recalls did not do the analysis.

The bottom line remains that recalls are ineffective and a poor substitute for getting the product right before it goes out the door.

Our request to CPSC under the Freedom of Information Act for a full list of cases where they have considered forcing the recall of a bike helmet is still working its way through the FOIA maze. We want to know how many helmets failed lab tests but were not recalled because the failure was "marginal."

Safe Kids begins measuring helmet use

The National Safe Kids Campaign is launching a major project to survey helmet use by 5 to 14 year olds across the US. Safe Kids currently is enrolling 34 of its state coalitions and actively recruiting to cover the rest. The study will be based on field observations, actually counting helmets on heads, and should be far more accurate than estimates based on telephone or classroom surveys.

BHSI has been participating in the working group developing the survey instrument and methodology. Other participants include staffers from CPSC, NHTSA, Bell Sports and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Results should be available at the end of 2003. For more information, contact Beth-Ellen Cody, MPH, Manager, Injury Epidemiology, National Safe Kids Campaign at bcody@safekids.org.

The Helmet Update - Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Randy Swart, Editor - info@helmets.org
4611 Seventh Street South, Arlington, VA 22204-1419 USA
(703) 486-0100
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