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safety

Paging Lenore Skenazy at Free-Range Kids.

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has extracted an $85,000 settlement and other relief from Atchison Transportation Services, Inc., of South Carolina on charges that one of its managers terminated two motorcoach drivers who were 75 and 76 years old respectively. As with disability discrimination, federal law on age discrimination generally requires that termination be based only on cause-based individualized determinations of unfitness; in practice, an employer may be well advised to premise such determinations only on evidence that would stand up under legal scrutiny as objective, such as, for example, a driver’s loss of license or involvement in an accident. [EEOC press release, h/t Roger Clegg]

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May 30 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 30, 2014

Following up on the sensational Blue Line crash at the Chicago Transit Authority’s O’Hare Airport terminus: “The CTA’s contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union authorizes the agency to fire rail operators who have had two serious safety violations in a short period of time [emphasis added], and officials said the two incidents when [Brittney] Haywood dozed off qualify her for termination.” Falling asleep just once at the controls of a train wasn’t enough! [CBS Chicago] More: Bill Zeiser, American Spectator.

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Lenore Skenazy’s incredibly funny talk last Thursday, with me commenting and moderating (and even at one point giving my impression of a 3-year-old losing a cookie), is now online. Several people have told me this was one of the most entertaining and illuminating Cato talks they’ve seen.

Lenore’s blog is Free-Range Kids and you can buy her book of the same name here. Some links on topics that came up in my remarks: Harvard researchers call for yanking obese kids out of their homes; authorities in Queensland, Australia, plan use of satellite data to spy out noncompliance with pool safety rules; courts reward helicopter parents in custody battles; charges dropped against mom who left toddler sleeping in car while she dropped coins in Salvation Army bucket; proposals to cut kids’ food into small bits and discontinue things like peanuts and marshmallows entirely; authorities snatch kids from homes after parents busted with small quantities of pot.

P.S. Direct video link here (h/t comments).

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It’s best known as a marketing tactic in the technology business, but it works more widely too, notes Julie Gunlock in her new book From Cupcakes To Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How To Fight Back (Independent Women’s Forum). From Angela Logomasini’s review:

In the world of politics, the tactic has also become a proven strategy for alarmists, such as the “food nannies, health, environmental, anti-chemical activists,” whose fear mongering leads politicians to the conclusion that “something must be done,” Mrs. Gunlock observes. Usually that something involves regulation that comes at the expense of consumer freedom.

Will you be in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, February 5? I’m delighted to announce that Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids fame, whose work I regularly link in this space, will be speaking at the Cato Institute at lunchtime. I’ll be offering comments as well as moderating, and it’s free and open to the public. Register here. The event description:

Our children are in constant danger from — to quote Lenore Skenazy’s list — “kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” Or so a small army of experts and government policymakers keep insisting. School authorities punish kids for hugging a friend, pointing a finger as a pretend gun, or starting a game of tag on the playground. Congress bans starter bikes on the chance that some 12-year-old might chew on a brass valve. Police arrest parents for leaving a sleepy kid alone in the back seat of a car for a few minutes. Yet overprotectiveness creates perils of its own. It robs kids not only of fun and sociability but of the joy of learning independence and adult skills, whether it be walking a city street by themselves or using a knife to cut their own sandwich. No one has written more provocatively about these issues than Lenore Skenazy, a journalist with the former New York Sun who now contributes frequently to the Wall Street Journal and runs the popular Free-Range Kids website where she promotes ideas like “Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day.” Her hilarious and entertaining talks have charmed audiences from Microsoft headquarters to the Sydney Opera House. Please join her and Cato’s Walter Olson for a discussion of helicopter parenting and its unfortunate policy cousin, helicopter governance.

And don’t forget that next Wednesday I’ll be moderating a luncheon talk at Cato by another favorite author, Virginia Postrel, with powerhouse commenters Tyler Cowen and Sam Tanenhaus. Register here.

Organizers at a church in Neath, Wales don’t mind rules requiring the donkey-riding Mary in a childrens’ Nativity play to be wearing a crash helmet, or as the case may be “riding hat.” They say the eight-year-old’s costuming can readily be arranged to conceal the anachronistic headgear during the Christmas procession. No word on whether, as at petting zoos, participants coming in contact with the animal will need to apply hand sanitizer before proceeding. Critics term the rule “‘elf – ‘n’ – safety.” [BBC, Telegraph]

It’s pretextual and cronyish in motivation, argues Jim Epstein at the Daily Beast (earlier).

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Sending fake gunmen into schools as an exercise? Have authorities lost their mind? [Jennifer Abel, Anorak via Brian Doherty]

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CannonballStampYou might think this was a parody, but apparently not. The federal government has ordered the destruction of a series of fifteen postage stamps intended to get kids to be more active after sports safety advocates said three of the stamps raised safety concerns, including illustrations depicting kids “skateboarding without kneepads, and doing a headstand without a helmet.” [Postal News]

My own view is that if you’re learning proper skateboarding technique off a postage stamp, you’re doing it wrong. (& Scott Shackford, Reason)

Reactions via Twitter: “One can understand the recall after the disastrous spate of upside-down plane crashes in 1918.” [@tedfrank] “I wonder how they missed the one with explosives on it” [@Bert_Huggins] “USPS thinks kids know what stamps are.” [@UlyssesHL]

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“Two federal government agencies will withdraw their longstanding claims that bicycle helmets reduce the risk of a head injury by 85%. The decision comes in response to a petition the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) filed under the federal Data Quality Act.” [Jim Titus, Greater Greater Washington; earlier on mandatory helmet-use laws here and here]

I’m a participant in an online forum put on by Common Good this week about the age of zero tolerance for aspirin pills, bans on games of “tag,” and broken-thermometer lockdowns. From their description:

We entrust our children to teachers and principals with the expectation that they will be both educated and protected from harm. When, inevitably, incidents happen — especially when those incidents are tragic and well-publicized — communities often press for stricter rules and procedures. School administrations have reacted to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School with extreme protectiveness; one school suspended a six-year-old for “pointing his finger like a gun and saying ‘pow,’” while another suspended two boys for playing cops and robbers.

Also featured: Lenore Skenazy, Frederick Hess, Megan Rosker, and Nancy McDermott. From my contribution:

When they “err on the side of safety” in absurd ways, schools reflect trends in the wider society. … Already, by ten years ago, British commentator Jenny Cunningham could write that “A significant body of research evidence now indicates that there has been a drastic decline in children’s outdoor activity and unsupervised play. For example, it has been calculated that the free play range of children — the radius around the home to which children can roam alone — has, for nine-year-olds in the UK, shrunk to a ninth of what it was in 1970. Perhaps most damaging is that a climate has been created in which all unsupervised play is regarded as high risk, and parents or teachers who allow it are seen as irresponsible.” Cunningham notes that families now tend to see the risks of being hit by traffic or (far less likely) abducted by strangers as ruling out outdoor play. “Yet, despite the increasing levels of worry, in reality children have never been safer.” Sound familiar?

I go on to mention CPSIA, the wildly overreaching 2008 law regulating children’s products in the name of safety, and the proliferation of requirements that innocuous everyday chemicals be accompanied by material-safety-sheet paperwork. My conclusion: “If these are the trends in the outside society, how likely is it that schools will be able to resist?” (cross-posted from Cato at Liberty)

How solid were the safety numbers underpinning the Department of Transportation’s high-profile crackdown on so-called Chinatown buses and other low-cost intercity bus services? [Marc Scribner, CEI; Jim Epstein, Reason]

Ira Stoll catches the New York Times being tendentious again [SmarterTimes]:

…one reason that Texas is at or near the top of the nation in terms of workplace fatalities is that it is at or near the top of the nation in terms of the number of workers and how many hours they work. If you adjust for that, and take the rate of workplace fatalities — that is, the number of fatalities from workplace injuries per 100,000 full-time workers, Texas isn’t worst in the nation, but somewhere in the middle…

Related: Josh Barro, Steven Greenhut (California as comparison).

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Why they might not work to the overall benefit of child safety [Adam Sandberg, CEI "Open Market"]

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Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids is the guest essayist at Cato Unbound. Excerpt:

..any time a politician, principal, or bureaucrat wants to score points, he or she lets us know that kids are even more precious—and endangered—than we thought….

How far has society gone in dreaming up new dangers to protect our children from? Until you take a step back and look at all the new laws and regulations, you probably have no idea….

Over the summer, according to the Manchester, Connnecticut Patch, a local mom was charged with “risk of injury to a minor and failure to appear after police say she allowed her seven-year and 11-year old children to walk down to Spruce Street to buy pizza unsupervised.” This was a walk of half a mile….

…in the “real world,” stranger abductions are so rare that if for some reason you actually WANTED your child to be kidnapped by a stranger, do you know how long you’d have to keep your child outside, unattended, so that statistically the abduction would be likely to happen?

The answer is about 750,000 years, according to author Warwick Cairns. And after the first 100,000 years or so, your kid isn’t even cute anymore. …

At the same time, there is a parallel process going on the regulatory world, with bureaucrats looking ever more intently for ever less likely dangers, on the grounds that kids can never be safe enough. This explains things like the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall of a line of children’s jackets last year because the elastic waistbands had toggles on it “that could become snagged or caught in small spaces or doorways, which poses an entrapment hazard to children.”

Yes, it’s true: Those toggles could snag. Does that make them inherently more dangerous than, say, pigtails that could get caught in a door, or a charm bracelet that could get snagged on an electric window? I’m just free-associating products and problems here, because that’s what it feels like the CPSC does, too.

In the discussion, Skenazy is joined by Anthony Green, James A. Swartz and Joel Best.

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Watch out for this soon to be up-and-coming Safety First proposal, as outlined by Vivian Hamilton of William and Mary Law: raising the driving age from 16 to 18. [Concurring Opinions]

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