I first met Boaz Keysar in 2001, three years after his son, Danny, died a horrible death, strangled in the collapsing top rail of a poorly designed portable crib in his day-care center's nap room.
It's hard to imagine anything that could magnify such an immense pain, but Keysar and his wife, Linda Ginzel, soon discovered something that did: The crib had been recalled five years earlier because of similar tragedies, but no one - not the center's employees or the mother who had donated the crib - knew anything about it.
Some people turn inward after tragic losses. Keysar and Ginzel set out to spare others from similar senseless grief. Twelve years later, their efforts have borne their greatest fruit yet. The "Danny Keysar Child Safety Notification Act" went into effect yesterday. It's designed to ensure that manufacturers of defective children's products will be able to contact their purchasers, much as automakers do after critical recalls.
In the years since Danny's death, Keysar and Ginzel, both professors at the University of Chicago, have done great good for the cause of children's safety. They founded the organization Kids in Danger, and have pushed for systemic improvement in product-safety regulation. It's been a tough slog. I'll never forget how Keysar pulled a plastic eyeball from his pocket to illustrate the broader problem. Considered a novelty item rather than a toy, the eyeball floated in a toxic solution, he said. No one cared then, and the situation hasn't changed much today - except for toys, and thanks in part to parents such as Keysar and Ginzel.
One of the couple's first courageous acts was to refuse the usual gag order that manufacturers typically require to settle a product-liability suit. You can read more about Danny's death and their court fight here, and about manufacturers' lax testing standards here.
Ann Brown, a former chairwoman of the CPSC, announced a push for a mandatory product-registration card in 2002, citing Danny's and other children's senseless deaths, and it was already an idea that had been around for years. It only took six more years to get it written into the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 - delays largely attributable to opponents, including some named to the commission itself by President Bush, who complained about the intrusion of the "nanny state" into the workings of the free market.
You can read about the new procedures here. While they're important, don't be lulled into a false sense of security - not when the CPSC home page is still full of news about recalls of all sorts of cribs that have caused injuries and deaths. If you're a parent or about to become one, or a grandparent or other relative who helps care for a young child, it's important to check out the recalls and warnings carefully - especially if anyone offers you a hand-me-down or you're tempted to buy a crib second-hand. If you can afford to avoid those cost-savings options, you should.
It will be years before all the old, dangerous cribs have finally all been trashed. But kids in the future will be a little bit safer thanks to Danny Keysar and his parents.