By Jennifer C. KerrAssociated Press
WASHINGTON The government took a big step Wednesday toward eliminating from stores, hotels and day care centers any crib with a side rail that can be raised and lowered ¡V so-called drop-side cribs.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission proposed new rules that would ban the manufacture, sale and resale of drop-side cribs. The new crib standard, likely to take effect next year, would also outlaw drop-sides at motels, hotels and child care facilities.
Drop-side cribs, around for decades, have come under scrutiny in recent years because of hardware problems that can lead to the drop-side rail partially detaching from the crib. When that happens, it can create a dangerous ¡§V¡¨-like gap between the mattress and side rail where a baby can get caught and suffocate or strangle.
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With Wednesday¡¦s vote, the commission agreed to develop a new standard to make cribs with four fixed sides mandatory. It also proposed more stringent tests for cribs and the use of more durable materials, such as metal screws instead of wooden ones.
¡§We will have a new crib standard after 28 years,¡¨ said Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. ¡§We¡¦ve seen a number of tragedies because we had such a weak crib standard.¡¨
Drop-sides have been blamed in the deaths of at least 32 infants and toddlers since 2000 and are suspected in another 14 infant fatalities. In the past five years, more than 9 million drop-side cribs have been recalled, including about 2ƒ|million recalled last month from Evenflo, Delta Enterprise and several other companies.
Crib-makers have already started phasing out drop-sides, and big retailers such as Babies R Us aren¡¦t selling them. An organization that sets voluntary industry standards, ASTM International, backed a drop-side ban late last year.
Mike Dwyer, executive director of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which represents over 90 percent of the crib industry, says his group has worked with the CPSC on the proposed new standard and fully supports the commission¡¦s efforts.
While drop-side cribs have been used for many years, consumer advocates say today¡¦s drop-sides are not as sturdy as those of the past. Many newer cribs have plastic tracking guides for the side that drops down ¡V made of materials that critics say are more prone to breaking than the metal rods on cribs many of our parents used.
Industry officials also attribute some of the problems associated with drop-sides to parents assembling the cribs incorrectly.
Congress has targeted drop-side cribs, too, with legislation to outlaw them from New York Democratic lawmakers Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Joe Crowley.
Wednesday¡¦s vote by the commission for a new crib standard will be followed by a comment period, with a final rule and vote expected in December. If approved, the new standard would probably not become effective until next summer.