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News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

1 in 10 surveyed daycares still using deadly, recalled infant sleepers

Three months after nearly 5.4 million infant sleepers were recalled for causing 36 infant deaths, a new survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education (U.S. PIRG) and Kids in Danger (KID) revealed that many child care facilities continue to use these dangerous inclined sleepers. The survey began after PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber discovered that his own son’s daycare in Philadelphia was using the recalled products.

“Every day, millions of parents drop their kids off, assuming their daycares have the information they need to keep their kids safe,” said Garber. “This failed recall is a wakeup call that our current system leaves too many infants at risk from these dangerous sleepers.”

U.S. PIRG and KID blamed the situation on confusing messages about the recall. Initially, a consumer warning for the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play on April 4th linked deaths to infant rollovers, leading some parents and facilities to conclude that proper use would keep babies safe. But a more complete analysis revealed some deaths occurred when the child was buckled in, leading the company and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to fully recall the 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play sleepers soon after on April 14. On April 26, nearly 700,000 units of the Kids II Rocking Sleeper were recalled.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Houston’s $7 billion solution to gridlock is more highways

Like many American cities, Houston is encircled by rings of highways—nine major radial freeways, three ring freeways, and a 180-mile fourth outer ring on the way.

But Houston isn’t just encircled by roads, it’s symbolically, and literally, being choked by cars. It’s consistently ranked as a top city for traffic congestion, ninth-worst for ozone pollution according to the American Lung Association, and a tragic nexus for deaths from car crashes. The annual death toll, according to the Houston Chronicle, is equivalent to “three fully-loaded 737s crashing each year at Houston’s airports, killing all aboard.”

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the solution is more roads, specifically, a multiyear, multibillion dollar project to widen and expand the city’s highway infrastructure in an attempt to ease persistent bottlenecks that clog downtown traffic.

 

This isn’t a small upgrade: in the name of accelerating commutes, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) will widen and rebuild nearly 25 miles of highways in the city’s downtown, expanding some to be as wide as the length of two football fields. In addition to years of construction, the “Texas-sized” expansion would displace four houses of worship, two schools, 168 homes, 1,067 multifamily units, and 331 businesses that account for just under 25,000 employees, impacting mostly people of color in low-income neighborhoods.

It would add more impermeable concrete and asphalt infrastructure, plus future maintenance costs, to a city that is still recovering from some of the worst floods in recent memory. Resilience is a serious concern post-Harvey, and as flood maps are updated as flood risks evolve, the addition of concrete to the landscape could make the next storm’s impact worse. Houstonians still recall how highways became channels of water that cut off neighborhoods from aid during the worst of the flooding.

To critics, the I-45 project, named after the main highway that will be impacted, is an urban renewal reboot, a modern version of the freeway expansion projects that wrecked neighborhoods and divided cities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Why would more urban highways and lanes of traffic—especially at a time when many cities are actively removing or capping their highways—be a foregone conclusion in any effort to mitigate Houston’s serious congestion problem?

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Largest bank hack ever, of Capital One, exposes 100 million to identity theft

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Equifax penalty is a “sweetheart deal” that leaves consumers at risk

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Electrify METRO Coalition Letter | Bay Scoggin

Dear Chair Patman,

We write you today to urge METRO to transition its buses to a clean, all-electric fleet.

We applaud the work METRO employees do every day, safely carrying thousands of people, including many who cannot or do not wish to drive, to work, school and more. METRO buses and light rail are playing a critical role in reducing traffic and air pollution. Furthermore, we appreciate the efforts METRO has taken to convert buses to hybrid technology, limit idling, and initiate an electric bus pilot program. 

However, most METRO buses are still powered by diesel—a dirty fossil fuel that gives off toxic emissions—endangering the health of the people who ride them and contributing to global warming. 

The good news is we have the technology to start building cleaner, healthier cities and neighborhoods. Dramatic declines in battery costs and improvements in performance, including expanded driving range, have made electric buses a viable alternative to diesel-powered and other fossil fuel buses. 

Replacing all of METRO’s diesel-powered transit buses with electric buses could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 43 million pounds each year. 

Electric buses can also be more affordable than fossil fuel buses in the long run, since they have 30 percent fewer parts, no exhaust systems, their braking systems last longer, and they don’t require oil changes or fossil fuels. Over the lifetime of the bus, an electric transit bus can avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs over an equivalent diesel or natural gas bus, from lower fuel and maintenance costs. 

We urge you to no longer purchase any more diesel buses. Putting new diesel buses on the road today will pollute our city for at least twelve more years. Instead, as buses are ready to be retired, please replace them with clean electric ones.

The Houston region is receiving $32 million from the Volkswagen Settlement funds, but that money is yet to be dispersed. This is a great opportunity for METRO to start transitioning to clean electric buses. 

 

We look forward to working with you to one day give all Houstonians the opportunity for a “whisper-quiet, green ride.”

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Media Hit | Transportation

Houston’s $7 billion solution to gridlock is more highways

Like many American cities, Houston is encircled by rings of highways—nine major radial freeways, three ring freeways, and a 180-mile fourth outer ring on the way.

But Houston isn’t just encircled by roads, it’s symbolically, and literally, being choked by cars. It’s consistently ranked as a top city for traffic congestion, ninth-worst for ozone pollution according to the American Lung Association, and a tragic nexus for deaths from car crashes. The annual death toll, according to the Houston Chronicle, is equivalent to “three fully-loaded 737s crashing each year at Houston’s airports, killing all aboard.”

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the solution is more roads, specifically, a multiyear, multibillion dollar project to widen and expand the city’s highway infrastructure in an attempt to ease persistent bottlenecks that clog downtown traffic.

 

This isn’t a small upgrade: in the name of accelerating commutes, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) will widen and rebuild nearly 25 miles of highways in the city’s downtown, expanding some to be as wide as the length of two football fields. In addition to years of construction, the “Texas-sized” expansion would displace four houses of worship, two schools, 168 homes, 1,067 multifamily units, and 331 businesses that account for just under 25,000 employees, impacting mostly people of color in low-income neighborhoods.

It would add more impermeable concrete and asphalt infrastructure, plus future maintenance costs, to a city that is still recovering from some of the worst floods in recent memory. Resilience is a serious concern post-Harvey, and as flood maps are updated as flood risks evolve, the addition of concrete to the landscape could make the next storm’s impact worse. Houstonians still recall how highways became channels of water that cut off neighborhoods from aid during the worst of the flooding.

To critics, the I-45 project, named after the main highway that will be impacted, is an urban renewal reboot, a modern version of the freeway expansion projects that wrecked neighborhoods and divided cities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Why would more urban highways and lanes of traffic—especially at a time when many cities are actively removing or capping their highways—be a foregone conclusion in any effort to mitigate Houston’s serious congestion problem?

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Largest bank hack ever, of Capital One, exposes 100 million to identity theft

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Equifax penalty is a “sweetheart deal” that leaves consumers at risk

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Transportation

Report lists I-45 rebuild project among nation’s biggest highway boondoggles

A massive remake of Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north to the Sam Houston Tollway that would be among the largest road projects in the region’s history also is one of the nation’s biggest highway boondoggles, according to an updated list released Tuesday.

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project — the umbrella term for the entire $7 billion-plus plan to remake Interstate 45 — is listed in the latest installment of unnecessary projects compiled by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group. Nine projects across the country made the 2019 list, the fifth annual report from the two groups that have argued for greater transit investment.

“We believe that to fix congestion problems we need to take cars off the road,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the TexPIRG Education Fund, a subset of the national group. “We could do far better investing $7 billion in public transit.”

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

“North Houston Highway Improvement Project” makes national list of highway boondoggles

Despite boasting one of the most extensive highway systems of any city in the country, Houston is planning to spend $7 billion on the “North Houston Highway Improvement Project.” According to a new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, the project would expand I-45 through the middle of Houston, displacing homes and dividing communities.

“The fundamental law of road congestion is that if you build it, they will come,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund director. “More highways means more cars, so policymakers are living in a ‘Field of Dreams’ if they think this project will reduce congestion.”

“To improve Houston’s transportation system, we have to reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” Scoggin continued.  “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will lead to more traffic, pollution and sprawl.”

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Driving Into Debt

In much of America, access to a car is all but required to hold a job or lead a full and vibrant life. Generations of car-centric transportation policies – including lavish spending on roads, sprawl-inducing land use policies, and meager support for other modes of transportation – have left millions of Americans fully dependent on cars for daily living.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Food

How safe is our food

Americans rely on a vast network of farms and businesses to provide safe food daily.  But in recent years, a string of high-profile recalls ranging from romaine lettuce to millions of pounds of beef to Ritz and Goldfish crackers have called into question the system developed to ensure safe food reaches people’s plates. The ubiquity of the problem can make grocery shopping a game of Russian Roulette where what a family has for dinner could make them seriously sick.

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Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Fixed for the Holidays

Why Shop Refurbished?

Black Friday prices year-round: You can usually find great deals on used electronics, getting something that’s like-new, but for a sizable discount. Technically, the minute you open a new device, it becomes used, so the difference between a used and new item can be negligible. You can get an item that’s close to new at prices lower than Black Friday deals.

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Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Paying for Electric Buses

Most of America’s school and transit buses run on diesel, a highly-polluting fuel, but there is a better option. All-electric buses are here, and they’re cleaner, healthier and save money for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term. Diesel is internationally recognized as a dangerous carcinogen, and diesel exhaust contributes to several respiratory illnesses, including asthma. Children are particularly susceptible to the negative health effects of diesel exhaust because their lungs are still developing.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Home remodeling shouldn’t be a deadly project: Toxic paint removers being sold by Lowe’s and other stores | Dev Gowda

No one should lose a loved one to deadly chemicals. But right now you can walk into Lowe’s and other stores and buy paint removers containing highly toxic chemicals.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Director Testifies before Env Reg Committee at Legislature | Bay Scoggin

Our Director, Bay Scoggin, testified in front of the Legislature's Environmental Regulation Committee today, asking them to have the State Auditor investigate the post-Harvey response times of the TCEQ and EPA teams that were testing the flood waters for Superfund toxic waste contaminants. Check it out:

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Blog Post | Safe Energy

Calling for Local Solar Leadership: This Equinox, Cities Should Make Plans for Solar Power | Bay Scoggin

This Friday marked the Autumnal Equinox in Texas, meaning we experienced almost exactly the same amount of daylight as darkness. Then, starting on Saturday, the winter moon began to dominate the sky. In honor of this last day of twelve or more hours of sunlight until June, we should celebrate the sun’s power through bigger commitments to solar energy in our communities.

 

It might seem counterintuitive -- why should we turn to solar as the days grow shorter? And can we really go big on renewable energy, at a time when our national leaders seem stuck on the fossil fuels of the past?

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

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Blog Post | Public Health

During This Intense Hurricane Season: Some Reports and Information On Storms, Chemicals and Public Safety | Kara Cook-Schultz

Hurricane Harvey was a natural disaster, and a devastating one at that. During and after the hurricane, we learned anew that it’s not only the initial storm that threatens life and limb, but also chemical facilities that are hit.  As Irma bears down on Florida, we hope for the best outcome for the people of Florida. We also want the state to prepare for the worst. In that spirit, here are some resources and information on storms, chemicals and public safety.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Despite more than 50 infant deaths from inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and the Kids II Rocking Sleeper, many versions of this type of product remain for sale and in homes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing a new rule that would virtually end the sale of inclined sleepers. 

Media Hit

America's largest auto retailer AutoNation is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls, according to a study by the Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. Those recalls include explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and other defects with no known fixes.

“By selling recalled cars with safety defects, AutoNation endangers customers’ lives before they even reach home,” said Adam Garber, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog. “The only way that AutoNation can ensure a ‘worry-free’ purchase is to repair every recalled vehicle before selling it.”

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

AutoNation, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” is selling recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects. In a survey of over 2,400 used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations, 1 in 9 were found to have unrepaired safety recalls. Those vehicles are potentially hazardous to the people who buy them, their passengers and everyone else on the road. Vehicles with defects subject to safety recalls – including malfunctioning Takata airbags and General Motors ignition switches – have been responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths.

Every AutoNation location surveyed was found to have unsafe, recalled used vehicles for sale.

• Researchers surveyed used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations in 16 metro areas across the nation during July and August 2019. Out of 2,429 vehicles surveyed, 285 had unrepaired safety recalls. 

• Some dealerships had a significantly greater proportion of used vehicles under recall than others. At the Chrysler Jeep West (CO) location, nearly 1 in 5 used vehicles had an unrepaired safety recall. At the Honda Fremont (CA), Hyundai Denver (CO), Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and Fiat Johnson City (TN) and Subaru Spokane Valley (WA) dealerships, more than 1 in 6 used vehicles contained an unrepaired safety recall.

• Even “certified” pre-owned vehicles often have unresolved recalls. Our survey found 14 instances of “certified” cars with unrepaired safety recalls.

All vehicle safety recalls should be taken seriously, and vehicles should be repaired before sale to consumers for use on the roads. Some victims have been killed within hours of when a dealer handed them the key to a defective car.

69 of the 2,429 used vehicles surveyed contained recalled Takata airbags that have been linked to 24 deaths and over 200 injuries globally. Exploding shrapnel from defective airbags has caused blindness and brain injury, as well as death from blood loss.

Some recalled used vehicles at AutoNation had no remedy available. 

Of the vehicles surveyed, 47 (16 percent of recalled vehicles) had an unrepaired safety recall for which a remedy wasn’t available at the time of the analysis. Consumers who purchase such a vehicle may have to wait for months or longer before their unsafe recalled vehicle can be repaired.

AutoNation advertises that its used vehicles are “worry free.”

AutoNation claims on its website that “we take the risk out of buying a pre-owned vehicle,” and that “as an industry leader we hold ourselves to higher standards.” It also purports to “provide promises and processes you won’t find anywhere else,” and advertises its pre-owned vehicles as “worry free.”

However, former AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson has admitted that vehicles with safety recalls are far from “worry free.” In 2016, Automotive News reported that he said: 

"These are not that the wrong tire-pressure sticker is on the car or some other little minor item. …These are significant safety recalls, and we feel the time has passed that it's appropriate to take a vehicle in trade with a significant safety recall and turn around the next day and sell it to consumers.”

His statement was referencing the promise that AutoNation made in 2015 not to sell used vehicles with unrepaired recalls. But this pledge lasted less than 18 months. On November 28, 2016, AutoNation walked back on its promise and began to market recalled vehicles.

Many recalled vehicles are at dealers with service shops capable of making repairs in-house.

Most AutoNation dealerships are franchisees which sell new cars that are affiliated with a specific manufacturer and have service shops that specialize in fixing that manufacturer’s vehicles. Since recalled vehicles typically must be returned to an authorized dealer for repairs, this should make it easier for those dealerships to make repairs to used recalled vehicles of the same brand, as a service department capable of making the repairs often exists on site. But, our survey found 62 used vehicles that were being sold by AutoNation dealerships of the same make as the vehicle under recall. 

Dealers’ sales of used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls may be illegal. 

All states prohibit licensed dealers, including those that sell used vehicles, from engaging in practices such as bait and switch, false advertising, unfair and deceptive acts and practices, fraud, violating express or implied warranties and the common law duty of care, negligence or causing wrongful death. AutoNation’s failure to repair recalled cars despite promising that it is selling vehicles that are of high quality may violate these provisions. 

Auto dealers should not sell unrepaired recalled used cars to consumers. To help address the risks posed by AutoNation’s sales of unsafe recalled vehicles to consumers:

Policy recommendations

  • The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., should grant the relief requested by Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, U.S. PIRG, and the Center for Auto Safety, and overturn the Federal Trade Commission’s consent orders with GM and with the automotive dealership chains CarMax, Lithia, Koons, West-Herr and Asbury that allows them to advertise that unsafe vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls are "safe," "subject to rigorous inspections," "repaired for safety," and "certified," as long as they merely disclose that the vehicles may have an open safety recall.

  • The Federal Trade Commission should prohibit AutoNation and other dealers from engaging in deceptive and unfair practices, such as advertising its used vehicles as “worry free” and high-quality when they have unrepaired safety recalls. 

  • State attorneys general should investigate AutoNation and other dealers who engage in such practices, and enforce existing state laws that prohibit them from selling unsafe, unrepaired recalled vehicles to the motoring public. 

  • AutoNation should honor the commitment it made in 2015 and re-institute its former policy of not selling used cars with unrepaired recalls. Dealerships across the country should follow suit and implement policies that prevent the sale of used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls. 

For consumers

  • As long as dealers continue to sell vehicles with unrepaired recalls, consumers should investigate any used vehicle they plan on purchasing to make sure that it does not contain unrepaired recalls. If the vehicle does have an unrepaired recall, consumers should refuse to buy it until it has been repaired by the seller at an authorized dealership.

  • If you recently purchased a used car, you should look up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) at www.safecar.gov. If there is an unrepaired recall, go to any of the manufacturer’s authorized dealerships to have it fixed. 

  • If you own a vehicle that is subject to a safety recall, and the parts are not available to fix the recall, insist on getting a safe loaner or rental vehicle from the manufacturer. 

  • Consumers or surviving family members harmed by dealers who sold unrepaired, recalled used cars should consult an attorney in their state who specializes in representing consumers in auto warranty and auto fraud litigation.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

AutoNation, America’s largest auto retailer, is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls including explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and defects with no fix available. Unsafe Used Cars for Sale, a new report from Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation, 1 in 7 cars for sale in Texas at AutoNation dealerships are dangerous to drivers, passengers and others who share the roads. 

“By selling recalled cars with safety defects, AutoNation endangers customers’ lives before they even reach home,” said Adam Garber, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog. “The only way that AutoNation can ensure a ‘worry-free’ purchase is to repair every recalled vehicle before selling it.”

The survey found numerous unsafe cars among more than 2,400 vehicles analyzed at 28 dealerships in 12 states. 1 in 9 cars for sale at all surveyed dealerships had active recalls and specifically, 1 in 7 cars at surveyed Texas dealerships have recalls. The recalled vehicles had defects that could cause vehicles to stall in traffic, seat belts to fail, Takata air bags to propel metal fragments at passengers, cars to catch on fire, or steering to malfunction.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

A new analysis of publicly available information from the FDA by U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund finds only 26 percent of a class of recalled blood pressure medications have been assessed for carcinogen contamiantion -- and the majority had some lots with higher levels than the FDA considers safe.

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