Evenflo Discovery Seat Recall Shows Need for Side Impact StandardsMar 17, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Last month's Evenflo Discovery Car Seat recall was issued despite the absence of a federal standard that specifies how well child safety seats must protect children in a side impact crash. Potentially catastrophic problems with the Evenflo Discovery Car Seat were discovered only because federal regulators had been working on developing side-impact regulations and had conducted some child seat tests as part of that research.
In early February, Evenflo recalled 1 million of the company’s popular Discovery Infant Car Seats after tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that the Discovery Infant Seat could potentially become separated from its base in high impact side collisions. Seats affected by the Evenflo Discovery Infant Car Seat recall include models 390, 391, 534 and 552 made between April 2005 and January 29, 2008. The serial number and date of manufacture can be found on a white label on the underside of the safety seat.
The Evenflo Discovery Seat Recall was unusual because the NHTSA has yet to adopt standards for car seats in side impact crashes. According to The New York Times, the agency said the problem with the Evenflo Discovery was so serious that, even in the absence of standards, the NHTSA felt a recall was necessary. The agency discovered the problem with the Evenflo seats last year as part of its research into creating a side-impact regulation. The agency was already conducting side-impact crashes in its regular testing of new cars, but decided to include rear-facing child seats in those tests to gather information on how they would perform in different vehicles.
According to The New York Times, the NHTSA only began researching a side-impact standard for child seats in 2000 when Congress ordered the agency to research ways to make the seats safer. But in 2004 the agency told Congress that a side-impact standard was impractical because, among other things, there was no good test method. Then, early last year, the NHTSA began working on side-impact standards more actively after the Takata Corporation of Tokyo, which makes occupant restraints like air bags, told the agency that the company had developed a test for child restraints in side-impact crashes. It was while evaluating the Takata system that the NHTSA discovered the problems with the Evenflo Discovery.
According to The New York Times, the defects with the Evenflo where "catastrophic". During the tests, in which a ram struck the vehicle’s side at 38.5 miles an hour, the portion of the seat in which an infant would be strapped broke free of the base that anchored it to the car and was thrown around the interior. “Even in a severe crash we shouldn’t be seeing that kind of structural separation, and we didn’t see it in other seats,” Ron Medford, senior associate administrator for the NHTSA told the Times.
Yet, despite the fact that it agreed to recall the Evenflo Discovery and even quit making it, the company maintains the seats are safe. Evenflo is basing that assertion, in part, on the fact that the seat met all federal standards in place at the time. And Evenflo is not offering refunds for the defective Discovery seats. Rather, the company will supply users with a "dual hook" fastener that will prevent the Discovery from separating from its base in the case of a side impact crash. The NHTSA told The New York Times that the fastener had been tested and does work.
What the Evenflo Discovery recall does illustrate is the need for the NHTSA to adopt side impact crash standards for all child safety seats as soon as possible. Medford told the Times that the Takata system “holds more promise than anything we have seen yet.” He said a final decision on whether to pursue a side-impact standard should be made by the end of the year.