January 29, 2007


Consumer Reports has made national headlines, many of them unwanted, by releasing a report claiming defective, hazardous crash-test failures by leading child restraint systems. CU has since sent out a retraction and a letter of apology to its members after having been roundly criticized by NHTSA and manufacturers for testing faults, and the media has been criticized in some quarters for giving allegedly misguided attention to the story.

However, CU’s report also suggested that European crash-test standards for child restraints are tougher and better than U.S. standards – an issue that appears to have validity and hopefully will be addressed by NHTSA and manufacturers in the future.

Here are links to the major developments in the CU child restraint test episode:

CU’s original release, with the headline, “Safety Alert: What If This Were Your Child: Most Infant Car Seats Fail Our New Front- and Side-Crash Tests,” accompanied by alarming photos and video of child seats misperforming in impact tests. The Evenflo Discovery seat was criticized in the first paragraph of the release, which said, “You’d think that in a car crash, infants in their cozy car seats would be the most protected passengers of all. But you’d be wrong, our tests reveal… When we crash-tested infant car seats at the higher speeds vehicles routinely withstand, most failed disastrously. The car seats twisted violently or flew off their bases, in one case hurling a test dummy 30 feet across the lab.”

Note: CU may have removed this page from its website. If so, a Google search may find other copies of the original release.

● The widely-carried AP story on the CU test-result claims, “Most Infant Seats Flunk Crash Test”.

● A report from ConsumerAffairs focusing on parents whose children were harmed in alleged failures of car seats involved in the CU tests. Headline: “Infant Fatalities Illustrate Car Seats' Shortcomings: U.S. Seats Built to Lower Standard than European Seats.” The report pointed out that, “Many infant seats sold in Europe undergo more rigorous testing than do models sold in the U.S. Indeed, when CR crash-tested an infant seat purchased in England, the Britax Cosy Tot, it was the best in the tests. An infant seat sold in the U.S. by the same manufacturer, the Companion, failed CU's tests.”

Evenflo’s response, expressing “deep concern” that CU had published its test results without consulting with child seat manufacturers, and stating, “…the magazine's test conditions and protocols appear to conflict with the collective experience of car seat manufacturers, NHTSA and the scientific community. Rigorous tests conducted by NHTSA and Evenflo have consistently shown that both the Evenflo Discovery® and Evenflo Embrace(TM) exceed government standards.”

● A statement by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association on behalf of “leading manufacturers of infant child restraints in the United States,”: “The scientific validity of Consumer Reports' conclusions is highly questionable… there is no evidence that infant child restraints would protect children better in real world crashes if they were designed to meet a crash test conducted at higher speed. Moreover, design changes needed to meet a higher crash speed may result in designs that are less effective in lower speed collisions, or harder to install properly, leading to decreased safety in the vast majority of crashes. The fact remains that child restraints are highly effective at reducing death and serious injury in the real world. To the extent that the Consumer Reports story undermines confidence in use of these restraints it does the public a disservice.

● A statement by DaimlerChrysler defending and urging the use of child safety seats.

● Two releases from Consumers Union, one withdrawing the report and the other, apologizing for it.

● A release from the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, an industry group, criticizing CU for not sharing its test details with other organizations, and stressed that child restraints provide improved safety for youngsters.

● Criticism of the media because, it was alleged by the Business & Media Institute, networks downplayed their own role in promoting “panic” over the CU test results. “While ABC, NBC, and CBS all covered the retraction on their January 19 morning news programs, they downplayed or ignored the role they had played in hyping the story,” it added. Consumer Reports was also chided for failing to “report the name of the testing firm” in its release (it was Calspan), and the media was chided for failing to “question the methodology of the study and the reputation of the testing firm that conducted it.”

● A NHTSA statement welcoming CU’s retraction and stating that the agency’s initial review of the CU testing procedures “showed a significant error in the manner in which it conducted and reported on its side-impact tests. The organization’s data show its side-impact tests were actually conducted under conditions that would represent being struck in excess of 70 mph, twice as fast as the group claimed. When NHTSA tested the same child seats in conditions representing the 38.5 mph conditions claimed by Consumer Reports, the seats stayed in their bases as they should, instead of failing dramatically.”

● In the New York Times, an op-ed by the head of Public Citizen calling the debacle “a whopper of a mistake that jeopardizes [CU’s] well-earned credibility,” but also criticizing NHTSA: “…the safety administration should devote its resources and energies not just to pointing out the grave mistakes of others, but to fulfilling its own mandate” to set tougher standards for child restraints and other vehicle safety components.

Posted by MVHAP at January 29, 2007 04:04 PM