Washington • It's one of the biggest purchases for soon-to-be parents, a crib for baby. Beginning Tuesday, a new generation of cribs, designed to be safer, will be the only ones approved for sale in stores, online, and even at neighborhood yard sales.
Ushering in one of the most significant changes in child safety in decades, the rule taking effect this week bans the manufacture, sale and resale of drop-side cribs. Drop-sides have a side rail that can be raised and lowered to allow parents to more easily place or lift a baby, but they have been blamed in the deaths of several dozen children.
Another significant part of the new federal standard mandates more rigorous safety tests for children's cribs before they hit the market. In the past, manufacturers were allowed to retighten screws and bolts on a crib in the middle of hardware testing meant to mimic how a child might rattle a crib by jumping up and down or shaking a rail.
Although the tests were intended to simulate a toddler in a crib, they don't mimic the reality of the parent. It's a rare parent who would know when to retighten obscure pieces of hardware on a crib during normal use by a child.
The retightening of screws and bolts during durability tests on cribs ends Tuesday, as part of the new rule approved last year by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Stronger mattress support systems and crib slats are also a major part of the new testing.
"After 30 years of having outdated standards, CPSC delivered on its promise and created the toughest crib-safety standards in the world," said Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Parents can now shop for a crib with confidence."
New cribs on the market won't really look different other than the obvious absence of a movable side that drops down. Now, all four sides will be fixed, and the cribs should be sturdier because of the tougher testing requirements.
Drop-side cribs have been around for decades. But they have increasingly come under scrutiny because of malfunctioning hardware, sometimes cheaper plastics, or assembly problems that can lead to the drop-side rail partially detaching. That can create a dangerous "V"-like gap with the mattress in which a baby can get caught and suffocate.
Drop-sides are blamed in the deaths of more than 30 infants and toddlers since 2000 and suspected in about a dozen other infant fatalities. Since 2007, more than 9 million drop-sides have been recalled.
The end of drop-side cribs marks a long-awaited day for Susan Cirigliano, who lost her 6-month-old son, Bobby, when his drop-side slid off the tracks in 2004, trapping his head and neck between the mattress and the malfunctioning side rail. He suffocated.
"It's bittersweet. It is not going to change my life as far as what has already happened to us," said Cirigliano, who lives in North Bellmore on New York's Long Island. "But, hopefully, it will save many more children. I am sure it will."
Although drop-side cribs will no longer be made or sold, they are still being used in homes across the nation. The industry says drop-sides that haven't been recalled can be used safely as long as they are properly assembled and maintained to the manufacturer's instructions. Manufacturers do not recommend using cribs that are more than 10 years old.
The agency is allowing daycare centers, hotels and companies that rent cribs additional time to comply until Dec. 28, 2012, before they need to purchase cribs that meet the new safety standards.
Industry officials say a healthy supply of new cribs awaits shoppers.
"Our members are selling cribs that meet the new federal standard, and parents will continue to enjoy a large selection of cribs in a range of price points," said Michael Dwyer, executive director of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents about 90 percent of the crib industry.
A new crib can cost from about $120 to more than $700, with about 2.4 million of them sold each year.