More Safety at the Wheel

What's at stake: Vehicle-to-vehicle, or V2V, technology allows cars to communicate with each other wirelessly, an advancement that has the potential to boost automotive safety significantly. It gives them the ability to broadcast a stream of information including speed, location, and braking. The goal is to help avoid accidents. (Read "Driving Into the Future")

Federal safety regulators recently proposed that all new cars be equipped with V2V capabilities. Our auto engineers and consumer advocates have since filed comments with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urging the government to move forward on a mandatory standard. But that standard needs to allow for continued innovation and enhancement of the safety system.

CR is also asking for consumer protections for the privacy and security of drivers' data. You deserve to know what information your car is transmitting and who has access to it. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

What you can do: Go to CR.org/V2Vsafety to learn more about this potentially lifesaving technology.

Ending Tip-Over Dangers

What's at stake: Three children are injured every hour by a TV, an appliance, or furniture falling on them, according to estimates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

For years, CR has reported on the dangers of unanchored furniture; the impact force of a piece of furniture can be thousands of pounds. We've long encouraged consumers to check for tip-over hazards in their home, to install anchor devices on heavy items like bookcases and dressers, and to never leave remote controls and other tempting items in high places that young kids might climb to reach.

CR and other groups have been pushing for action. Last year Ikea and the CPSC jointly announced a recall of several chest and dresser models that involved 29 million units. Tip-over incidents involving these products resulted in the death of at least four children.

We’re now pressing to strengthen the furniture industry's voluntary safety standard for chests, dressers, and other items, and calling on manufacturers to take more meaningful actions to improve the stability of their products. But we haven't seen the kind of urgency and industry-wide accountability that consumers need. That's why we plan to ratchet up our efforts aimed at companies and policymakers in the coming months.

What you can do: If you've had a tip-over accident in your home, let us know at ConsumersUnion.org/share-your-story. And learn how to prevent them at anchorit.gov.

Affordable Hearing Aids

What's at stake: Hearing aids can make a profound difference in a person's quality of life. But according to a 2015 survey of our subscribers, about 70 percent of adults who need them put off the purchase for two years or longer, most often because of the high cost.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers in Congress recently sponsored the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act. It's aimed at making easy-to-use, prescription-quality hearing aids available to adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. These devices would be available for purchase without a medical exam, giving consumers more cost-effective options.

Only hearing-aid look-alike devices are available without a prescription. Referred to as "sound amplifiers," they're not regulated, might not provide much benefit, and could possibly cause additional hearing damage. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't even allow the products to be marketed for improving impaired hearing.

The legislation is sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

"If you can buy non-prescription reading glasses over the counter, you should be able to buy basic, safe hearing aids, too," Grassley says.

Hearing aids aren't covered by Medicare or most private insurance plans, and out-of-pocket costs for a single device average $2,700.

What you can do: CR supports this legislation, and our consumer advocates are urging members of Congress to join the bipartisan group that backs it. Reach out to your lawmakers at senate.gov and house.gov to urge them to support the bill.

As for the current marketplace, read "No More Suffering in Silence?" or go to CR.org/hearingaid to find out what you should know before buying a hearing device.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the July 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.