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December 30, 2005

Warning: There are too many warnings

Warning: Extended reading of this blog on a computer screen may strain your eyes.

Daniel Fisher discusses warning-label overkill in Forbes after a consumer group complains that too many warning labels dilute their effectiveness.

I couldn't agree more. My niece received a toy doll bed for Christmas; the less than one-inch square pillow had an attached label of nearly the same size. Is this saving lives?

Cars are terrible nags. Ugly labels are splashed across dashboards and sun visors, written lyrics to the awful chorus of electronic pings and beeps warning us to close the door, turn off the lights, and buckle up. And now it is getting worse. (Okay, now it is getting personal. But that is worse in my book.)

Our new Honda has a GPS navigation system with a disclaimer screen that comes up every time you start the car to warn you, in lots of words, that maps can be out of date. This would be annoying if it just showed every time. But you actually need to acknowledge it by pressing "Okay" before the system will come up.

Now I know that there will always be some idiot (or flustered elderly driver) who turns where there is no turn because the GPS said to. But there are lots of idiots driving on the road, and many more dangerous and likely threats to our collective safety than people turning onto non-existent roads because the little voice told them to. Why don't we have to acknowledge the danger of driving drunk, without a seatbelt, or while fiddling with the radio every time we start the car? Why don't we have to confirm that we’re not still parked in a closed garage before the engine turns over and starts spewing noxious fumes? And is pressing "Okay" enough? Sometimes my children press it for me – have I been warned? Shouldn't it require a signature or fingerprint?

The warning labels are there because because of government regulations and to defend against silly lawsuits. New labels will continue to follow new regulations and new silly lawsuits. The concept of personal responsibility is dead. Soon warnings like these will be a requirement, not a joke.

For the best of the worst warning labels, see M-LAW's Wacky Warning Labels or The Warning Label Book.

Posted by Bob Pritchett at December 30, 2005 6:10 AM

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