In crash tests run by the federal government infant car seats didn’t fare very well. Thirty-one seats tested either flew off their bases or exceeded injury limits in the series of frontal crashes. Federal researchers used 2008 model year vehicles in these tests. The results from the tests were never publicized, and according to the Chicago Tribune, even some infant-seat makers were unaware of their existence. The Tribune found the results buried in thousands of pages of test reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It should be noted that these tests are used to rate the safety of cars, not the child restraints in them.
What the newspaper found calls into question the rigor of the current safety standards for such seats. The investigation also highlights how little information parents are armed with as they make one of the most important safety decisions for their babies. We can compare safety ratings for cars, but not for the safety of car seats. Parents often have no way of knowing which seat fits best in their car and whether conventional wisdom is accurate. Take for example that the Tribune found two of the most expensive seats tested had some of the poorest results. Also, it was found that some small cars protected car seats better than larger ones. My good friend Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator and now president emeritus of Public Citizen, had this to say: “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.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is now on the job, said in a written statement given to the Tribune that he ordered a “complete top to bottom review of child safety seat regulations” and directed NHTSA to make the crash-test results “more available” to consumers. Of the 66 infant seats tested in frontal crashes, nearly half of the seats either separated from their bases or exceeded injury limits. Even though vehicles – and not seats – were being tested, the government describes the tests as research. But the results for two seats were so troubling that NHTSA recalled those seat models. One manufacturer completely overhauled how it evaluated its seats. NHTSA says it’s now analyzing all of the test results and doesn’t yet know what they mean. If infant seats performed as poorly on American roads as they did in these crash tests, said Ron Medford, NHTSA’s acting deputy administrator, “We would expect to see higher numbers of fatalities or serious injuries than we’re aware of.”
In 2007, 63 babies were killed and about 7,000 were injured in crashes where they were strapped into infant restraints. Before being sold, seats must pass a test that simulates a head-on crash at 30 mph on a sled bench. Remember, the tests analyzed by the Tribune were where regulators crashed actual vehicles into a wall at 35 mph. Joan says the crash tests suggest something that is common sense: the effectiveness of car seats can be more thoroughly judged when evaluated inside a real car as it is crashed.
When a person like Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator and a very good one, says automakers should crash test infant seats with their vehicles and then designate which seats fit particular models, NHTSA should listen. It’s too important an issue to ignore her very sound and well-considered advice. Taking that approach would result in infant-seat makers competing to become the recommended seat. Joan says car companies could set specifications that ensure a perfect fit, the same way they set requirements for tire makers. Instead, families are left with ill-fitting baby seats and a safety standard that, according to Joan, is “totally inadequate.” I totally agree!
Our firm has handled a number of cases where innocent infants were either killed or badly injured due to a defective car seat. If you have further questions on this subject or would like more information, you can contact Graham Esdale who is in our Product Liability Section at 800-898-2034, or by email at Graham.Esdale@beasleyallen.com.
Source: Chicago Tribune and Public Citizen
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