by Mike McHugh
Sorting my mail these days is easy. Everything goes into one of two piles: “junk” and “bills,” and each pile is always too big. I’m sure it’s the same for most people. When you think about it, it’s no mystery why dogs like to chase mailmen. It’s just their protective instinct kicking in.
The other day, however, I got a letter from the Ford Motor Company that didn’t fit into either pile. It was a notice that my wife’s Mustang was being recalled to correct a defect with the driver’s side airbag. It said that, in the event of a crash, the airbag’s inflator could rupture, emitting shrapnel that could cause “serious injury or death” to the driver or passengers. Now those are words that make you sit up and take notice, even if you’re like me who normally files his mail with the day’s coffee grounds before getting through the first sentence. If the Publisher’s Clearing House replaced the statement “You may have already won a million dollars” with “Failure to respond to this offer could result in serious injury or death,” I bet they’d sell a lot more magazines.
What distressed me most about the letter wasn’t so much learning that my wife’s car is essentially a death trap, but rather it was the statement that they don’t yet have the parts to fix it. “We will notify you via mail when parts become available,” it read. So essentially, the purpose of Ford’s letter was to say that they were going to send me a letter.
Now if that kind of logic sounds to you like something that only the Federal government, in its infinite wisdom, could come up with, you’d be dead on. According to the letter, Ford was required to send me this notice of a notice under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety and Postal Service Job Protection Act. It’s not surprising, coming from the same body that gave us such landmark legislation the Paperwork Reduction Act, a standard that requires Federal agencies to justify the reams of forms they issue by filling out yet more reams of forms.
In the case of my letter from Ford, I feel like I’d be better off had they just kept me in the dark until they were ready to fix the airbag. True, my wife would still driving around with what amounts to a live grenade embedded in the steering column, but at least I wouldn’t be losing sleep over it. As it is, I can’t do anything about it short of buying her a Kevlar vest.
This whole thing makes me wonder what other defective products I might have lying around the house that are actually time bombs waiting to explode. For instance, could my microwave one day start emitting harmful rays that could turn my dog into some lethargic, zombie-like creature, becoming roused only by the prospect of food? Come to think of it, that may have already happened.
So perhaps the government ought to expand the law requiring notification of product defects to cover all industries, not just automotive. In which case, I’m going to have to start a third pile for my mail.