In 2002, not long after Linda Kaiser put her 1-year-old twins to bed, she and her husband went in to kiss them goodnight. They found their daughter, Cheyenne, sitting up but lifeless, a window blind cord wrapped around her neck.

It’s been more than 30 years since the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) first drew attention to the dangers of window blind cords, naming this “particularly insidious hazard” the second-leading cause of strangulation among children under 5. Since then at least 332 young children have died and many more have been seriously injured by window cords, including some little ones who were left brain-damaged or paralyzed.

“It can happen in an instant,” says Kaiser, “even when you're nearby.”

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A tenacious problem

The CPSC ranks window cords as one of the top five household hazards. Cords that have a loop are the most dangerous because they so easily can get caught around a child's neck. But kids have been strangled by loose cords and those that run between slats as well. The CPSC stresses that any exposed cord has the capacity to get wrapped around a child's neck. 

Standard baby-proofing advice is to tie up window blind cords or wind them tightly around mounts — an approach that experts give a thumbs-down. Writes one blogger for the CPSC: “It gives parents a false sense of security. Cords can and do get tangled...Kids can easily wrap dangling or accessible cords around their necks.”

It's also recommended parents keep cribs and furniture away from windows. This “might work for babies, but kids ages three to five can climb on window sills and reach the cords,” says Kaiser. She's now president of Parents for Window Blind Safety (PWBS), an organization she and her husband formed after losing their daughter in hopes of sparing other families from a similar tragedy. 

PWBS has worked to educate the public, support grieving families and push for stronger standards to protect children. Its public service announcement warns that with a window cord wrapped around his neck a child can lose consciousness within seconds and die within a minute.

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Time to cut the cord

Despite industry attempts to create voluntary standards for safe window blinds, such as eliminating looped cords and putting warning labels on packaging, the rate of injuries and deaths from window blind cords has not dropped significantly over the last few decades.

The only way parents can completely eliminate the risk a child might get strangled by a window blind cord is to install blinds that don't have them — an approach recommended by the CPSC, along with the Window Covering Manufacturers Association and other industry groups. According to safety advocates, you can buy inexpensive cordless blinds for around $14 apiece. 

If you aren't able to install cordless blinds, another option is shades with inaccessible cords a child can't grab. There also are free retro-fit kits available online from the Window Covering Safety Council, but the CPSC says these should be viewed as “a short-term fix” for very old blinds, until they can be replaced.

In 2013 consumer groups petitioned the CPSC to develop mandatory standards that would either prohibit cords or require safety guards. Last year the CPSC voted to begin the rulemaking process that could eventually require safety standards for all new window coverings.

In the meantime, if you have young children, go cordless.

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Mary Purcell is a freelance writer and health researcher in Piedmont, Calif., with expertise in policy analysis. She has a master's degree in Latin American studies from Georgetown University.