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Most infant seats fail in new study

Jan 5, 2007 | The Wichita Eagle

Of 12 rear-facing infant car seats Consumer Reports recently crash-tested, most "failed disastrously" at the speeds at which most cars are tested, the magazine announced Thursday.

However, the magazine also stressed that any car seat is better than none at all.

"If a family finds itself unable to afford a new car seat, we would recommend using the one that they have," said Heather Joy Thompson, communications counsel for Consumer Reports. "If you're in the market to purchase one, get one of the ones we recommended."

The magazine's findings will be reported in its February issue.

Consumer Reports is urging federal officials to recall one car seat -- the Evenflo Discovery -- that it said didn't meet federal safety standards.

It also is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to test child car seats at higher speeds.

Rae Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman, said the federal agency saw the test results Wednesday and met with Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.

"Our own tests don't quite agree," Tyson told The Eagle, stressing that the Evenflo Discovery met federal safety standards. "We tested it just this last year, in 2006. All the seats tested do meet federal safety standards."

Evenflo did not return a call for comment Thursday.

The magazine noted that cars and car seats can't be sold in the United States unless they can protect occupants in a 30 mph frontal crash. But most cars also are tested in crashes at higher speeds 35 mph for frontal crashes and 38 mph for side crashes.

Don Mays, senior director of product safety and consumer science for Consumer Reports, said it was "unconscionable that infant seats, which are designed to protect the most vulnerable children, aren't routinely tested the same as new cars."

Of 12 infant seats tested most designed for children under 1 and less than 22 pounds Consumer Reports recommends only two: the Baby Trend Flex-Loc and the Graco SnugRide with EPS. EPS stands for expanded polystyrene, a cushioning material.

The magazine said nine seats provided poor protection even though they met the federal safety standard.

The seats the magazine tested are rear-facing carriers that snap in and out of a base. The base then connects to the car by the vehicle's safety belts or LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, which includes belts that hook the base to metal anchors in the car).

The LATCH system was created to standardize the way child safety seats are attached to vehicles without having to use a seat belt.

Thompson said several seats performed just fine with a car's safety belt but didn't fare as well with the LATCH system.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said late last month that a study found the systems confusing to use.

"We agree with Consumers Union on one point and that is whether or not the LATCH system has answered problems we hoped it would," Tyson said Thursday.

Wichita auto dealer Dawson Grimsley, known for his commercials about safety issues, said he knows firsthand that "there are a lot of people who are confused about how to install car seats correctly, and that is so, so important."

Car seat technicians are available at all Davis-Moore dealerships to help consumers install car seats safely, Grimsley said. Consumers have to make an appointment for the service and do not need to be a Davis-Moore customer.

The LATCH system has made improvements, but "there are instances where it can be difficult to work with," Tyson said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to hold a public meeting next month to bring together automakers, car seat manufacturers and advocacy groups to talk about the system, Tyson said.

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