In a withering expose published this week, the Chicago Tribune
unearthed safety tests whose results raise questions about the
dangers posed by several popular car seat models. The findings, which resulted from tests
conducted by the National HIghway Traffic Safety Administration to determine the
comparative safety ratings of cars, not the car seats inside them, were
never released to the public, however, and in some cases
were unknown even to the companies that make the car seats. Yet as the
Tribune points out, such information would be of great interest to
parents, who have to make choices about which car seat to buy based on
nothing but the marketing mantras produced and promoted by the
companies that make them.
Among the car seats performing poorly in the NHTSA tests — videos
of which can seen on the Tribune web site — are the Graco SafeSeat,
the Britax Companion, and the EvenFlo Discovery (which was recalled
after the tests were completed). In nearly half of the seats tested, the bucket flew out of its base before or the seat’s dummy occupant incurred damage which “exceded injury limits.” In the videos of the tests, the seats can be seen flipping over backward to slam
their infant dummies, face first, into the back of the car’s front seat.
According to the Tribune article, this kind of result, seen
repeatedly in the NHTSA tests conducted on actual cars, are seldom seen in
the testing required of car seats, because those tests all feature a
“sled bench,” a mechanical stand-in for a car that lacks the physical features of a car’s interior, such as front seats. All car seats sold in the
US must pass muster in a 35 mph crash in the sled bench. The NHTSA tests
unearthed by the Tribune simuulated a 30 mph head-on collision in a car.
Researchers and public safety advocates agree that car seats save
lives, but also that manufactuters and government need to do a better
job of testing their safety, and of informing the public about the
results of those tests. It looks, at least for now, as if the latter
part will take place. From the Tribune article:
“What you’ve uncovered totally reveals the flaws in the current safety
standard and also NHTSA’s negligence in not reporting this to the
public,” said Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator and
president emeritus of the advocacy group Public Citizen.
Responding to the Tribune investigation, newly installed
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a written statement Friday
that he ordered a “complete top to bottom review of child safety seat
regulations” and directed staff to make the crash-test results “more
available” to consumers.
some manufacturers responded with plans to implement car crash
testing to replace or augment the traditional sled tests, others
continue to question the NTSB methodology. A spokesman for Graco agued
that the testers must not have properly installed the carseat — a
frequent enough complaint, apparently, that the NTSB included owner’s
manual diagrams in its material to prove that even when properly
installed, the SafeSeat flew off its base in some of their testing.
For parents who take their children’s safety incredibly seriously — which is to say, for all parents — such information should not be blocked or evaded by manufacturers eager to defend the status quo, and their bottom line. Uniform, realistic, and stringent testing should be required, and the results published and distributed as widely as possible. The government should demand more from the manufacturers, and so should parents.
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