Investigations: Many booster seats fail on side-impact safety

In February, the nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica produced a report on Evenflo, the manufacturer of the “Big Kid” booster seat. ProPublica found that Evenflo had designed its own side-impact crash test that was virtually impossible to fail and then advertised that the car seat was side-impact crash tested.

In real-world situations, the side-impact crashes simulated by Evenflo could cause a child to be seriously injured, ejected from the seat or even killed.

We highly recommend reading ProPublica’s report on Evenflo and the Big Kid booster seat. However, there have been further developments in the story. Now, a congressional subcommittee has found that these problems are widespread among booster seat manufacturers.

Lax safety rules may have allowed exaggerations

One thing to understand is that U.S. safety regulators have not established side-impact crash standards for child booster seats. These are car seats best used by children 40 pounds and larger who no longer fit in smaller, more protective car seats. Twenty years ago, Congress directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to enact standards for side-impact tests, but NHTSA has failed to do so.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy followed up on the ProPublica investigation to see if other manufacturers were relying on made-up side-impact tests and then using the results in their marketing.

Apparently, they were. The subcommittee probed Evenflo and other booster seat manufacturers, examining internal documents videos of safety tests. The findings led the subcommittee to urge NHTSA, the Federal Trade Commission, and state regulators to investigate possibly “unfair and deceptive marketing and unreasonable risks to safety” by the booster seat manufacturers.

“Our investigation revealed that booster seat manufacturers are more interested in leading parents to believe that their products are safe rather than ensuring that they actually are,” said the chair of the subcommittee.

For example, subcommittee investigators found that Graco, which also manufactures a child booster seat, gave a passing grade to their seat after a test the company had invented. The video of the test shows a child-size dummy being thrown far beyond the confines of the seat and placed in a “dangerously contorted position” after what was considered a mild side-impact collision. The actual result would likely be grave injury or death.

A Graco spokesperson said the company “stands behind its long record of safety” and “extensive testing methods that meet or exceed federal regulation.”

The subcommittee, however, concluded that Evenflo, Graco, Artsana, Britax, Dorel Juvenile and KidsEmbrace had all engaged in deceptive marketing when claiming their booster seats were successfully side-impact tested.

Meanwhile, NHTSA recently proposed raising the minimum weight for booster seats to 40 pounds, but it specifically said it would exclude booster seats from any new side-impact test requirements.

Is your child’s booster seat affected?

At this point, it is simply impossible to say whether your child’s booster seat is safe in side-impact crashes. As you can see, manufacturers have been claiming the seats pass side-impact tests but failing to specify that those tests are virtually impossible to fail.

If your child was injured in a side-impact crash, you should be aware that the car seat manufacturer could be partly at fault. Even though side-impact tests are not legally required, the manufacturer still has a duty to provide a product that is reasonably safe in all foreseeable circumstances.

Talk to an attorney who handles product liability to determine if you may have a claim.

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