WASHINGTON — It’s the end of the traditional crib that has cradled millions of babies for generations.
The government outlawed drop-side cribs on Wednesday after the deaths of more than 30 infants and toddlers in the past decade and millions of recalls.
It was a unanimous vote by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban the manufacture, sale and resale of the cribs, which have a side rail that moves up and down, allowing parents to more easily lift their child from the crib.
The new standard requiring cribs to have fixed sides would take effect in June. The move by CPSC would also prohibit hotels and childcare centers from using drop-sides, though those facilities would have a year to purchase new cribs.
Around for decades, drop-side cribs have come under scrutiny in recent years because of malfunctioning hardware, sometimes cheaper plastics, or assembly problems that can lead to the drop-side rail partially detaching from the crib. When that happens, it can create a dangerous "V”-like gap between the mattress and side rail where a baby can get caught and suffocate or strangle.
CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum hailed the new standard for cribs as one of the strongest in the world.
"I believe these new standards will markedly reduce crib-related hazards and help to ensure that young children sleep more safely in their cribs," Tenenbaum said after the vote.
In all, drop-side cribs have been blamed in the deaths of at least 32 infants and toddlers since 2000 and are suspected in another 14 infant fatalities. In the past five years, more than 9 million drop-side cribs have been recalled, including cribs from big-name companies such as Evenflo, Delta Enterprise Corp., and Pottery Barn Kids.
"These products are deadly, and this critically needed action will prevent further senseless deaths," said New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who pushed legislation to get drop-side cribs off the market.
The new standard mandates tougher safety testing for cribs, tests that more closely mimic a child in a crib. As children get older, they can apply more force to the crib — shaking on it, running around in it, jumping up and down. The new tests aim to make sure the cribs can take that kind of pressure.
Better labeling on crib pieces will also be required — a measure that aims to cut down on the misassembly problems that some parents have encountered, problems that can lead to the death of a child.
For parents who lost their children in drop-side cribs, Wednesday’s ban couldn’t come soon enough.
"I feel like it’s a celebratory time because things are finally being done about the issue," said Michele Witte of Merrick, N.Y. Witte’s 10-month-old son, Tyler, died in a drop-side crib in 1997 after one of the side rails came loose, partially detached and then trapped his neck between the rail and the headboard.
Chad Johns, whose 9-month-old son Liam died in a drop-side crib in 2005, said he was a little relieved.
"Yes, it’s a long time coming," said Johns from Roseville, Calif. "But the fact that it is happening — that’s what is important."
Crib makers were already phasing out drop-side cribs over the last couple years, amid increasing problems with them. And last year, the organization that sets voluntary industry standards — ASTM International — approved a drop-side ban.
Many parents, however, still have drop-sides in their homes. They can also be found at secondhand stores.
Parents who are using drop-side cribs are advised to check the hardware on the cribs to be certain it’s working properly and to make sure their crib has not been recalled. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which represents over 90 percent of the crib industry, says properly assembled drop-sides that haven’t been recalled can be safely used.