Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Submissions - The Australian Risk Policy Institute (ARPI)

Review of the mandatory standard for child car restraints

The ACCC has called for submissions of a consultation paper recommending a revised mandatory safety standard for child restraints. 
Due: 16 January 2014
ARPI Web Publication: after 16 January 2014

ARPI supports the ACCC conclusion that supply should continue to be regulated on the basis that this is necessary to mitigate risk to the most vulnerable however ARPI disagrees that there is a cogent basis for making the supply of devices under the 2000 standard unlawful.

ARPI supports the amendment of the standard to permit the supply of ISOFIX anchors however ARPI disagrees that the standard should mandate dual anchor points as this may act as a restraint on trade and ignores the reality that, in future, consumers will need to be closely concerned the compatibility of their vehicle and the restraint.

ARPI disagrees with a requirement for an information booklet to be included in the supply chain – this for reasons of supply chain cost, this is appropriately dealt with by the States as a point of sale requirement.

ARPI specifically opposes the proposed form of the standard.  The standard should be a stand-alone document that makes no reference to third party documents only available through sale.  ARPI will separately contact relevant Commonwealth and State Ministers bringing this issue to their attention.

ARPI encourages the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to more expressly consider risk policy in future considerations.  As discussed below, a number of recommendations in this paper are not supported by evidence and, if adopted, would have added additional and unnecessary cost to the supply chain.

The standard for child car restraints has previously been changed in 2000, 2004 and 2010.  The changes on this occasion would prevent further supply of restraints manufactured to the 2000 standard (after a startup period of 12 months), makes provision for the introduction of a new form of restraint anchor - an ISOFIX anchor point (while most cars do not have such anchor points, backwards compatibility would be mandated) and mandates provision of an instruction booklet to be maintained in the car.  The paper also provides a draft standard which is inadequate for reasons set out below.

ARPI takes as its starting point that vulnerability defines the level of risk.  Accordingly, in considering this issue, ARPI has sought to understand the real risks and real consequences relating to the supply of child car restraint devices, in the first instance at the level of a child and the child’s responsible adult carer but equally looking at the upstream, downstream and knock-on effects of the use of child car restraints and proposed changes to the standard. 

Continued Regulation
ARPI agrees with the ACCC conclusion that supply should continue to be regulated.  Failure to regulate supply would create confusion within the market and expose children to the risk of death or serious injury.

ARPI notes with some concern that the injury data used to support a change in approach is old (dating back to 2005 – 9 years old).  No use of current figures have been made despite Commonwealth and State Attorney Generals funding a coronial data project for at least a decade to consider and report on matters relevant to this matter.  Any future changes to the standards should include an analysis based on coronial data rather than a reference to findings in a single coronial report.

The injury data relied upon establishes no link between accident rate and severity and child restraints in use at that time conforming to the 2000 standards.  The ACCC justification for prohibiting the sale of restraints manufactured to the 2000 standard is confused.  Newly manufactured restraints meeting the 2000 standard will still be capable of being supplied in the Australian market through 2015, even in f the ACCC prohibition is given effect.  Accordingly the claim at p13 that while these might be considered safe, the use of restrains more than 10 years old manufactured to the 2000 standard is generally not recommended appears to have no relevance to the proposed ban suggests that the ACC has confused the date of manufacture with manufacture to a particular standard.  ARPI does not support this recommendation in the absence of cogent evidence of such a link being established.

ARPI also agrees that the standard should be amended to permit the supply of child car restraints with ISOFIX fittings.  ARPI members have had experience in fitting child car restraints in Australia and American and report that the ISOFIX installation system is significantly less complex and dependant on third party providers than in Australia at present.  ARPI notes that the literature does not conclude that ISOFIX fitted restraints are inherently more safe than existing restraints (save that there is perhaps a greater possibility that the seat will be safely installed).  However, when a Government regulator is responsible for determining the shape of products in a particular sector, it is under an obligation to ensure that the market is able to adapt new initiatives without the intrusion of undue red tape constraints.

Further it should not introduce additional red tape constraints without solid justification.  In this respect ARPI queries why it is considered necessary that devices supplied with an ISOFIX anchor point should also be backwardly compatible.  ARPI understands from a literature review that some restraints with the new fitting will not fit some older Australian vehicles.  Accordingly, it is likely that at the point of sale, consumers will be required to carefully consider what restraint they purchase having regard to the vehicle that they propose to use.  This involves a significant departure from the existing “one-size fits all” approach within the existing market.

ARPI notes that a requirement for dual anchor points to be included in restraints may add additional cost to the restraint, and may preclude the import of child restraints utilising these anchor points already manufactured overseas.  Technical and unnecessary requirements of this nature should not be mandated as it can act as a significant restraint on trade. 

Information booklet
ARPI notes the proposal for supply of an information booklet.  It is unclear on what statutory basis the ACCC proposes the inclusion of such material in supply-chain regulation.  This is more appropriately cast as a point of sale requirement.  Adding such a requirement to the supply chain can act as a restraint of trade and add to downstream cost.

Form of the standard
Of particular concern to ARPI is the proposed form of the standard.  A draft standard is included at the end of the consultation paper and amounts to little more than an annotation of AS/NZS 1754:2013.  Unlike the rest of the statute book, Australian Standards are not freely available, but are marketed privately through LexConnect.  In this case the hardcopy is available for $238.27 and a PDF version is available for $332.39.
In effect, in order to understand the proposed change (which at a technical level appeared on a quick read to have some technical difficulties, ARPI (and others wanting to read the proposed law) are effectively barred from accessing the law. 

This is an abysmal situation.  ARPI suggests that the ACCC reconsider its proposed approach and cast the standard with NO reference to the Australian Standard.  ARPI suggests that the ACCC take advice about whether it has engaged in third line forcing. ARPI will separately contact relevant Commonwealth and State Ministers bringing this issue to their attention.

January 2014

Note that this submission reflects input from other ARPI members.

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