Lifesaving Car Laws

What's at stake: On average, 37 U.S. children die each year after being left in overheated cars. It takes just minutes for a car to reach dangerous temperatures. Trapped children have died from heatstroke even when the outside temperature was as low as 60° F.

To prevent these tragedies, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced the HOT CARS Act in the U.S. Senate. The bill would require cars to come equipped with technology that alerts drivers if a child is left in the backseat after the ignition is turned off. Though the technology is currently available, it's not yet widely offered. A House committee has recently approved a bipartisan bill that would make this type of safety system mandatory.

"Congress should quickly pass the HOT CARS Act to help parents avoid the devastation of losing a child to heatstroke," says David Friedman, our director of cars and product policy and analysis. "Until there are alerts in every car that are reliable and effective, parents should look before they lock."

What you can do: Contact your lawmakers at congress.gov and urge them to support the Act. To learn more about this safety technology, go to CR.org/hotcars1117.

Affordable Hearing Aids

What's at stake: In July we told you about a CR-backed bill in Congress that aimed to make hearing aids more accessible and affordable. Now, we're happy to report that the bill hit its bull's-eye. The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act was passed and signed into law as part of the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017.

The law directs the Food and Drug Administration to issue regulations making prescription-quality hearing aids available without a medical exam or prescription for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. Before this bill, only hearing-aid look-alike devices were available without a prescription. Called "sound amplifiers," or PSAPs, they aren't regulated, don't provide much benefit, and could even cause additional hearing damage.

Thanks to the new law, the FDA is now required to create rules ensuring that new OTC hearing aids meet the same high standards for safety, labeling, and manufacturing as all medical devices do.

The legislation was sponsored by a bipartisan group: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), as well as Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who led a companion bill.

CR and its policy and mobilization arm, Consumers Union, were strong and steadfast supporters of this common-sense legislation and urged lawmakers to pass it.

"This measure will increase consumer choice and value," Sen. Grassley said. "Consumers Union was early to recognize these benefits and helped spread the word. I'm grateful for their support."

Sen. Warren said, "Thanks to the support of groups like Consumers Union and people across the country, hearing aids will soon be sold over the counter. By driving down the cost of hearing aids and spurring more innovation, this bill will make a life-changing difference for millions of Americans­—exactly the kind of work CU excels in."

What you can do: If you need a hearing aid before these devices hit shelves, see "No More Suffering in Silence?" or go to CR.org/hearingaid.

More Robust Recalls

What's at stake: Notifying consumers about product recalls, and repairing or removing those defective items from homes and the marketplace are complex challenges. Even though manufacturers have the ability to issue recalls and the government has similar options, the success of these efforts has often been weak.

That's why the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which oversees recalls for more than 15,000 types of products, recently held a workshop on improving the process.

CR's experts attended and offered advice, as well as encouraged companies to be proactive in identifying and safeguarding against dangerous products. Companies should put at least as much effort into recalling a product as into selling it, we said. That means knowing how to alert customers, whether by direct mail, targeted ads, or social media, and providing clear information on what to do.

Customers also need an option to register purchases at the point of sale so that they can be easily alerted to any recalls.

The CPSC educates and trains manufacturers on how to carry out recalls, and when necessary, the agency imposes fines and other penalties for improper or illegal conduct. CR supports the CPSC holding companies accountable.

What you can do: We highlight noteworthy product recalls on the ConsumerReports.org website and in every issue of the magazine. You can also find the latest government alerts at recalls.gov. To report a dangerous product, go to saferproducts.gov. And always register the products you buy.

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