A recent recall involved one million Evenflo Discovery child restraints because of “catastrophic” failure in a crash test. Interestingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has refused to reopen an early investigation into an earlier Discovery model that may have a similar failing. The 2004 investigation found that eight infants died and 23 were injured in crashes after the Discovery model 561 in which they were seated came apart. That is the very same problem responsible for the recall earlier this year of newer Discovery models. After four months, the agency closed that 2004 investigation, which covered about 2.6 million seats built from 1998 to 2004. Investigators said they could not find a defect and that some of the crashes occurred at high speeds. But the agency also noted that ending the investigation didn’t mean there wasn’t a defect, and that they reserved the right to reopen the case.
The Discovery models are for infants and face the rear. They are designed to be more convenient because the portion in which the baby is secured has a handle. It can be disconnected from the base, which is anchored to the vehicle. NHTSA discovered the “catastrophic” failure of the newer Discovery model last year during its regular side-impact crash tests of different vehicles. The newer Discovery seat came apart even though it was in a relatively protected spot — on the far side of the vehicle, away from the ram that caused the crash-test damage.
Evenflo eventually agreed to recall Discovery models 390, 391, 534 and 552, produced from April 2005 to January 29, 2008. But company officials have not admitted that those units contain a “safety related defect.” Evenflo claims the recalled seats are different from the ones investigated in 2004. The recalled models have an “additional load-bearing structure including reinforced and new buttressing ribs and thicker walls,” according to the company.
The fact remains – some of those old Discovery 561 models could still be in use. For that reason, NHTSA should reopen the old investigation. As pointed out by Christopher Jenson on MSNBC, the agency “could take one of the Discovery 561 seats, strap it into a vehicle scheduled to go through a side-impact test anyway and see what happens.” As he aptly pointed out, “if the Discovery 561 comes apart, the model could be recalled.” Apparently, NHTSA has no plans to reopen the 2004 investigation, because it accepts the company’s assertion that the Discovery model that was recalled is different from the model investigated in 2004.
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