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Consumer Reports Recalls Its Own Report On Infant Car Seats

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Consumer Reports has always been my Bible. I would never buy a car or a children’s product without first checking what CR has to say.
Well today, my faith in CR is shot. They’ve withdrawn the scathing story they published earlier this month about infant car seats. It seems there was a big mistake in the report. The report claimed CR tested the car seats at a certain speed, 38 m.p.h, when in fact it was closer to 70 m.p.h according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
CR is backpedaling furiously. If you try to find that original story on its site, it is gone. Gone. Completely gone. I wrote a post about the original report. And now, when I click on the links in that post that are supposed to take me to the study, I’m directed instead to today’s press release.
Here’s a quote from that orginal study:
Cars and car seats can’t be sold unless they can withstand a 30-mph frontal crash. But most cars are also tested in a 35-mph frontal crash and in a 38-mph side crash. Car seats aren’t.
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. Here are the details:
Of 12 infant seats we tested, only 2 performed well: the Baby Trend Flex-Loc and the Graco SnugRide with EPS.
Nine infant seats provided poor protection in some or all of our tests, even though they meet the federal safety standard. One seat, the Evenflo Discovery, didn’t even meet that standard. We urge federal officials to order a recall of that seat.

Here’s what CR is saying today:

Consumer Reports is withdrawing its recent report on infant car seats pending further tests of the performance of those seats in side-impact collisions.
A new report will be published with any necessary revisions as soon as possible after the new tests are complete.
We withdrew the report immediately upon discovering a substantive issue that may have affected the original test results. The issue came to light based on new information received Tuesday night and Wednesday morning from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concerning the speed at which our side-impact tests were conducted.

For a minute now, let’s put aside the colossal error CR seems to have made and look at the bigger picture. If these seats were actually tested at 70 m.p.h, and they “failed disastrously,” then maybe the seats really are dangerous. Honestly, don’t most of us drive on highways from time to time? If so, we’re not going 38 m.p.h., that’s for sure.
In which case, maybe it’s NHTSA which should come under a bit of scrutiny here. According to the New York Times, NHTSA only requires car seats to pass a test at 30 m.p.h.
The federal government requires that the seats protect babies in front impacts of 30 m.p.h. The highway traffic safety agency said it was trying to develop a side-impact standard. It rates cars under a New Car Assessment Program, which it uses to award “stars” to each model, and those are done at 38 m.p.h. for side impact.
So, while I’m disappointed in Consumer Reports, I do think there may just be a kernel worth hanging on to in their report. Moms and dads, check out their original study, it’s worth considering.

Infant Car Seat Ratings

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This is not a story about breast feeding. But it is a story that every parent of an infant should read. It’s about car seat safety.
Consumer Reports just released a new study of infant car seats. The tests subjected the seats to the same collision tests required for cars, and the results were downright frightening. (If you want a real scare, watch the video on the Consumer Reports site).
For ratings of all the seats tested, click here. Now here’s a quote from the story.
Cars and car seats can’t be sold unless they can withstand a 30-mph frontal crash. But most cars are also tested in a 35-mph frontal crash and in a 38-mph side crash. Car seats aren’t.
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. Here are the details:
Of 12 infant seats we tested, only 2 performed well: the Baby Trend Flex-Loc and the Graco SnugRide with EPS.
Nine infant seats provided poor protection in some or all of our tests, even though they meet the federal safety standard. One seat, the Evenflo Discovery, didn’t even meet that standard. We urge federal officials to order a recall of that seat.
Infant car seats sold in Europe undergo more rigorous testing than do models sold in the U.S. Indeed, when we crash-tested an infant seat we bought in England, it was the best in our tests. An infant seat sold in the U.S. by the same manufacturer failed. (See European models.)
Our findings offer added evidence of problems with LATCH, the federally mandated attachment system for child car seats. Most car seats performed worse with LATCH than with vehicle safety belts. And LATCH attachments aren’t always easy to use.

So here’s what Consumer Reports recommends you do:
Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, strongly believes that NHTSA should strengthen safety testing for car seats so that it is comparable with the tests conducted on new cars. That means including a side-crash test. If the New Car Assessment Program is any indication, crash performance improves when results are publicized.
The agency also needs to revisit the LATCH standard. Automakers should make anchors and tethers easy to access. And LATCH anchors should be required in center-rear seats.
For now, here’s how to keep your baby as safe as possible while traveling:
If you’re shopping for an infant car seat, buy one of the two we recommend. (See the Ratings.)
If you already own a Chicco KeyFit, Compass I410, Evenflo Embrace, or Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP, use it with vehicle safety belts, which passed our tests, not with LATCH, which didn’t. If you can’t get a tight fit with the safety belt, buy one of the two seats we recommend.
If you own a different infant seat, consider replacing it with the Baby Trend Flex-Loc or the Graco SnugRide with EPS.
Secure your child in the center-rear seat if the car seat can be tightly fastened there. Go to www.nhtsa.gov to find a free car-seat inspection station near you.
Send in the registration card that comes with new car seats, so that the manufacturer can contact you if the seat is recalled.
Remember that any child car seat is better than no seat at all.

Now, for the responses to this story: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had already admitted that the LATCH system was confusing to parents. Interestingly, The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association has questioned the results of the Consumer Reports study.
As for us, we have the Britax Companion infant car seat that didn’t rate so well. Very disappointing. I’ve always been a huge Britax fan. To me, their products are the Volvos of car seats. A little clunky in design, but super safe. In fact, The Britax was previously Consumer Reports’ top-rated seat based on the federal standards. And in terms of personal experience, when The Bortski was about 5 months old I got rear-ended at a stop sign. He was totally fine, thanks to his Britax infant seat.
As for The Bear, given his age and size I think we’ll move him out of his infant seat and into one for an older kid. For now, I’m most likely sticking with Britax. But I’ll keep my eyes out for any further reports.