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.
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.