Blog in Bike Europe: Why a ‘stop using your bicycle immediately’ recall should be rare

By Rutger Oldenhuis

Wheels that come loose, brakes that don’t work, seatbelts that don’t tighten, and a wrong brake pedal that gets in the way when using the clutch. This is not about bicycle recalls but a selection of recent automotive safety issues that were categorized as ‘serious risk’ and therefore led to a product recall. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to realise what can happen if your car loses a wheel, can’t brake or doesn’t have a properly working seatbelt while driving.

When non-food products pose a serious safety risk and are recalled, market surveillance authorities typically require companies to include in their recall notice the instruction to stop using the product immediately. This is in line with EU recall guidelines.

Car recalls

But when you analyse car recalls, for an industry known for its rigorous quality control processes it is first of all shocking how many serious defects are reported monthly. Along with toys, motor vehicles top the recall rankings. More remarkably, you probably won’t find any mention that car owners should stop using their car immediately. The most common instruction is that car owners make an appointment with their car dealer to have the problem fixed. There are a few known cases where car owners had to park their car outside in a safe place due to the risk of battery fire.

According to an official of the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, “the ‘top level’ of recall is known as a Stop Drive Recall. This is where affected vehicles should not be driven. These are very rare and are akin to aircraft being grounded.”

General rule for other industries

So, while a Stop Drive Recall is ‘very rare’ in the automotive industry, for other non-food products and certainly for bicycles, a ‘stop use immediately’ instruction seems to be the general rule. Remarkably, in the USA, the CPSC recently adopted an internal policy, according to which manufacturers are, by default, requested to consider offering end-users a full refund. Based on my experience, you need robust argumentation to convince the CPSC that other corrective actions are more appropriate.

For end-users and manufacturers, the instruction to immediately stop using a bicycle can be quite onerous. Consumers may need their bicycle to commute, and manufacturers may need time to ensure sufficient replacement parts are in stock and resources available to start a repair programme. Furthermore, a full refund for a bicycle that can be repaired really seems disproportionate and would definitely not meet the sustainability goals of the EU Green Deal.

‘Serious risk’

We can assume that ‘serious risk’, by definition, has a similar meaning for a car, a bicycle, or any other product. According to the EU risk assessment methodology, if we take the highest severity injury level (level 4), there is a ‘serious risk’ if the probability of damage during the foreseeable lifetime of a product is more than 1/10,000. A car recall may easily involve hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of cars. A quick math tells us that in the event of a serious risk, between the announcement of the car recall and the repair, many (new) incidents could have already occurred. Yet car owners are not instructed to stop driving their cars. To put things into perspective, not many bicycle or component recalls will affect more than 10,000 products. However, manufacturers still need to tell their end-users to stop using their bicycles immediately.

Why the difference?

We may wonder why market surveillance authorities treat similar situations differently. Of course, we understand the practical implications of not being able to drive a car anymore. Still, as mentioned before, the same goes for bicycles and other vehicles that are used daily for commuting. And when do you ever see a car manufacturer offering end-users a full refund?

We can only guess why cars are compared to aircraft when it comes to recalls. Perhaps it’s their notoriously strong lobbying forces? Of course, serious safety risks call for quick and proper corrective action, but what car recalls tell us is that a Stop Drive Recall in the bicycle industry often seems disproportionate and excessive and should therefore be the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps it is time for the bicycle industry to compare itself more to the car industry. Aircraft will be the next step.

Dit blog is geschreven door Rutger Oldenhuis LLM, oprichter van RecallDesk en specialist in product veiligheid en product recalls. Het blog is eerder gepubliceerd in Bike Europe Magazine. U kunt de blogpost ook online lezen op Bike Europe (lidmaatschap is soms vereist).