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Consumer Reports finds Big Problems with Car Seats

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A safety alert in the February 2007 issue of Consumer Reports says at least two of the 12 infant car seats they investigated — all of which come with packaging touting federal approval — should be recalled altogether due to doubts about their safety in a frontal crash. The magazine’s crash testers are investigating eight more seats after raising doubts about their ability to withstand a side impact. Asking "What if this were your child?", the magazine’s original article reported dummy "infants" violently twisted within their seats, thrown within the carrier from the base of the seat, or flying 30 feet across the laboratory.

Only Two Seats Pass Side Crash Safety Test

In a January 5 interview with National Public Radio, Consumer Reports deputy editorial director Kim Kleman described the problem: The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires most new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. to be able to withstand a head-on crash at 30 mph, a head-on crash at 35 mph and a side impact at 38 mph. However, the NHTSA requires that infant car seats be able to withstand only a 30-mph head-on collision. When a team from Consumer Reports tested 12 car seats using the more stringent standards applied to cars, only two seats protected their "infant": the Graco SnugRide with EPS and the Baby Trend Flex-Loc.

Corrections Don’t Affect Call For Action

Since its initial testing, Consumer Reports has issued a correction to its side-impact tests, saying a consultation with the NHTSA suggested that the speed of those tests was not accurate. A Jan. 18 press release from the NHTSA said the group’s side-impact tests were simulated at 70 mph, twice as fast as they claimed. Until it has results from new tests, the magazine said in a press release, it must withdraw its report. However, the magazine stands by its call for a recall of the Evenflo Discovery seat, saying it did not protect its dummy even during the frontal crash test, and of the Eddie Bauer Comfort seat, which the testers found impossible to install properly. The Discovery has also been the subject of an NHTSA investigation, the magazine noted, after the agency received seven reports of the carrier coming apart in an impact.

"When the car seat does not meet the crash that the car can, that baby is actually the least protected passenger in your vehicle," Kleman told NPR. "We think that this is an outrage. We think that the federal standard absolutely needs to be raised for car seats."

Car seats sold in Europe performed better in the crash tests, Consumer Reports found, noting that European Union safety regulations are stricter than those in the United States and often include a side-impact test.