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Redefining 'dangerous'

This month, the feds banned drop-side cribs with sides that lower to make it easier to get the baby out. The ban is nuts. Here's why.

Over the past nine years, 32 children have died in these cribs. That is tragic. But -- and saying "but" does not make me a heartless bean counter -- we are talking about roughly three deaths a year in a country where about 4 million babies are born annually. That is about one death per million.

That does not prove that the cribs are unsafe. It proves that the cribs are pretty safe. Safer than stairs (1,300 deaths per year), safer than eating (about 70 kids younger than 10 choke to death on food each year), safer than just sitting there and the next thing you know you're bitten by a venomous spider (five deaths per year).

I realize that these stats are jumbled -- they are not the deaths of infants, whose main cause of death is birth defects (5,623 per year) -- but my point is that three deaths a year from any cause, for any large population, is almost something that statisticians call "de minimis." Not that these deaths don't count! But when a cause of death is that rare, you can't base your life on it, or you couldn't do anything. Go outside? No, there are spiders! Go downstairs? You could trip! Eat a sandwich? You could choke!

As for cribs, one reason the drop-side models seem so "dangerous" is they are so popular. When you have millions of people using anything, no matter how safe, the odds of an accident go up with the numbers. That's why it's likelier an American will die in a car accident than a bucking bronco accident. Doesn't mean that cars are inherently less safe than bucking broncos. The odds also go up because with millions of people assembling these things, some are bound to do it wrong, which seems to have been the case in many of these tragedies.

The recall list includes some of the biggest baby-product manufacturers around, including Evenflo and Child Craft. I am positive they tested their cribs, because children's product manufacturers are always in danger of being sued. Think of all the items recalled for tiny infractions, such as a protruding screw.

Yet my own senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is quoted as saying, "These products are deadly, and this critically needed action will prevent further senseless deaths."

Ah, but what will prevent further senseless grandstanding? These products are not deadly. There's a difference between a deadly product (cyanide) and a product that sometimes results in death (a grape). We keep obscuring that difference and congratulating the folks who act as if it is only a lack of vigilance that allows anyone to die of anything other than old age.

This is the same impossible standard we then go on to apply to parents -- the idea that if anything bad ever happens to any child, it is because the parent was "defective." And what is the result? Helicoptering! Worry about every possible, if extremely unlikely, thing that could go wrong, and spend your days actively trying to prevent them all.

Now, I love the idea of the government keeping us safe from dangerous products. It is the definition of "dangerous" that has gone awry. Next the Consumer Product Safety Commission may train its sights on balls because, in their inherent roundness, these sometimes roll into the street, causing kids to run out and get hit by cars. That is why if I ever am elected senator, I will not rest until we redesign the bouncy ball. A slightly boxier one would make our kids safer.

Elect me and I will make sure our nation has no more balls.

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