January 5, 2007

Consumer Reports: Daddy Types Was Right About The Car Seat

Sheesh, for going on three years now, I've had to be all equivocating and diplomatic and hedgy when writing about car seats, and facing regular email criticisms about how we must not love our child, and how could we use an illegal European car seat? NO MORE. WE WERE RIGHT.

[1/18 update: Right about the fact that EU car seats may be tested more rigorously, than US standards, that is. As for the Consumer Reports side impact test results mentioned below, CR has retracted them after the NHTSA tried to replicate them, and couldn't. The resulting discussion found errors in CR's lab's testing process. Read more here.]

cons_rep_car_seat_crash.jpg

Consumer Reports:

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.

Consumer Reports just announced the results of its extensive crash tests of a dozen US car seats, all of which meet federal safety standards for car seats. CR tested them using the crash test requirements for cars, which are more rigorous, but even still, are not entirely real world simulations, and ten of them failed. A couple of them failed everything. The only US car seats that passed NHSTA tests for cars--no malfunction or injury in either a 35mph head-on collision or a 31mph side impact--were the Baby Trend Flex-Loc and the Graco SnugRide with EPS [an impact-absorbing foam].

Meanwhile, they tested a US-spec Britax car seat, which totally sucked, and compared it to a UK-spec Britax, which did just fine. So the problem is not--or not just--the companies; it's the regulatory standards and the government agencies that enforce them. CR is characteristically scathing in its call for the NHSTA to make car seat safety testing requirements at least as stringent as the regimen for the vehicles themselves. They also call for a re-examination of the whole LATCH system, which actually led to more failures in their tests than regular seat belt and/or base installation.

The reason we started considering our Maxi-Cosi Cabrio car seat was aesthetics, I'll admit it. But as soon as we started researching the differences, it became clear that the EU's safety performance testing was at least as rigorous as the US's, and if you factor in the side impact testing, it was even moreso. Consumer Reports didn't test a Maxi-Cosi, but they come out strongly in favor of the more stringent safety requirements of our Maxi-Cosi's home market. That's close enough for me.

Buying a European car seat for the US isn't for everyone; it's kind of expensive, or it can be a pain to get here. But I think from this point on until the regulations are improved, I would say the fact that it hasn't passed US safety testing is an argument for, not against getting one.

Read Consumer Reports' test results and recommendations: Most infant car seats failed our new front and side-crash tests
[consumerreports.org, via dt readers david, rae, lex, noisette's maman, micaela, brian, and matthew. whew.]
Previously: Euro-trash car seat: the Maxi-Cosi Cabrio; M-C Cabrio ISOFIX/LATCH; &c. &c.

Coming Soon: discussion of some higher performance US car seats designed with safety, not just test-passing, in mind.

21 Comments

Greg,

This study has a lot of problems. I'm posting about it on my site right now. It's a long post, so it's too hard to c&p it here. But I find a lot of problems with this study.

"who are these people?" is your problem?? It's Consumer freakin' Reports, Patty. They've been safety testing consumer products and advocating for safety regulation and standards for over 70 years. It's all they do. Does such an institution have the capability to create a 30-lb crash test dummy? How much of their $21 million annual testing budget do you think it would take?

Does any car seat manufacturer publish the raw data results of their safety testing? Does any other independent testing organization, including the US government? Does anyone make it as widely available as CR does? It's a fair question to ask for more detailed data than what's provided in an "Overview," but first check if it's in their provided to their 4 million paying subscribers--and then compare them to the informational competition before condemning their results.

As for your questions about flip-flopping, those can be answered by the criteria of the tests performed, which are clearly stated in the report; they're the whole point, in fact: CR applied NHTSA CAR crash test standards to car seats. Currently the NHTSA doesn't require car seats to pass these tests; car seat standards are lower. What passes a low standard with flying colors can certainly fail a higher one without it being a "flip-flop."

The differences between 30mph and 35mph can be very significant; that's basic physics. But your criticism, "I don't see how a seat can totally protect a baby and then 5mph faster, the seat unlocks, twists, and injures the child," doesn't take into account the actual criteria of the test. They're not measuring "total protection of a baby"; they're measuring measurements. Of angles, pounds of pressure, speed, and binary things like "moved or not. broke loose or not." You're right that the translation of disparate raw data into tidy bubble charts, and then into shocking headlines like "all car seats fail safety tests!" is problematic, but the problem is probably not with the scientific method.

As for statistics abuse, you can't pin that on CR, either. The notion that most car seats are safe is borne out by CR's own recommendations. They only really say users of the two completely failed car seats should replace them immediately. They also point out that the most important thing isn't LATCH or not, it's proper installation.

They also cite the total number of accidents and deaths involving infants and failed car seats, and you're right, it's very small. But several hundred people in the US lost their children because of accidents and car seat failure was involved somehow. If you have a better solution for improving the overall safety of car seats and reducing the probability of such unpredictable events, by all means, hop to it.

Just remember to factor in a government that doesn't see a problem, an industry that lobbies hard to regulate (sic) itself, and companies that happily sell us products designed to provide LESS crash protection than they offer in other markets.

My point here, frankly, was that unquestioning, uninformed trust in companies and in the government's testing would be nice, but unfortunately, it's naive and too often misplaced. As it turns out, there are more strict, more comprehensive, better enforced, and more realistic regulatory standards than the US's. And reflexively dismissing products that come out of those markets as "unsafe" because they are "illegal," or because they haven't been put through weaker US testing is a fallacy.

Regardless of the low standards they are required to pass shouldn't they be morally obligated to make them safe enough to withstand a crash - otherwise what is the point of having them? As most companies make seats for both US and EU standards they have the capabilities and technology and surely they must have safety tested them themselves at some point, no?

I find this information all rather confusing and horrifying.

I'm trying to convince my husband that we need to replace our graco carseat with a maxi-cosi, can anyone point me to a website that has specifics on the safety of the maxi cosi versus other carseats. Also, does anyone have the bases for the maxi cosi, how do they seem to work--are they a good idea to get? I'm worried about space, I have a volvo v50, and it gets pretty tight in the back. Thanks!

[just heard about a similar car seat test done in the UK; check back Monday for a link. not sure if I'd go far as to replace a car seat--unless it was one of the serious failure ones, perhaps--but places like babycare.nl stock the bases, too, and can ship together for not much more money. As for the Volvo question, check this old post about fitting a Cabrio in an v70XC. It's about a fix for the seat belt. -ed,]

Dude - post these on a Monday.. don't ruin our weekends...

And this is why we are perfectly happy that we went with what many in the "aesthetic" world would refer to as the "cheap and ugly" Graco. Boy am I glad we did now :O)

Though we do have the Graco with EPS... I didn't read that the original Snugrides were one of the ones they deemed as "failures"

PS... though we typically do anyway, from now on we will be using our carseats without their bases... apparently bases suck, which is something I've pondered for a long time now

I too am enjoying flaunting my illegal maxi-cosi to all my naysayer family members. I think our resale value just increased quite a bit as well. It would be nice to get back some of the euros we shelled out to get this thing shipped from Germany!

Well, now I'm really glad we went with the Snugride. Like Rachel said, it was cheap and it's ugly, but I went with CR's recommendations and got it because they said it was safe (bonus - it fits on our Bugaboo). Now it looks like it was a good choice. Too bad so many people out there choose a car seat based on whether it matches their upholstery and don't care/don't know to check these types of ratings...

Does anyone know about purchasing these Euro-seats from Canada? Are Canadians closer to US or EU rules for car seats?

Even with more stringent standards, manufacturers manage to get European-spec seats really badly wrong. Take this extract from the Which? review of the Mamas & Papas (Peg Perego in the US, I think) Revo seat: "when we carried out a front crash test, the seat shell was torn out and thrown forwards. Don’t buy this seat". Yikes.

[yeah, the conclusions of the UK test were, ironically, the same as the CR's, even though the EU crash test standards are higher: they're not high enough, and mfrs are still selling unsafe products. Go figure. -ed.]

PS - Which? tested six Maxi-Cosis, four got best buy status, the other two weren't quite so good.

Any chance you can get Britex or others who have US and Euro models to describe the actual differences between the models (we bought one)?

I'm curious whether the differences are the result of just being designed to meet the different tests. It would also be interesting to see whether injury stats or experience in Euro countries reflects the difference, eg. actual performance.

US grade seats may not be as good, but they're still better than nothing. There was a high speed crash on the NYS Thruway last month and the only survivor was a two year old in her car seat. I just checked the archive of our local paper and found two other accidents where a driver or passenger was killed in a car with a toddler in a car seat, and the toddler suffered minor injuries.

George

PS. Info about something that can help parents keep their child safer ought not "ruin" any parents' weekend.

I know that one difference we saw between Britax convertible seats in the US and France is that those sold in France a couple years ago had a three point harness rather than a five point. Our friend there was complaining about how her daughter could get out of the harness which we couldn't imagine..until we saw her seat. When we showed her the specs online she wished the US version of the Roundabout had been available in France. So things go both ways...

Does anybody know how to find out when Graco started including EPS in their Snugrides? A friend gave us her's (manufactured Oct 2002). Since it doesn't "expire" until Oct 2008 and we only need it until Oct 2007 (baby is now 1 month old), we'd like to keep using it. But we will surely go buy a new one ( if we don't import a Maxi-Cosi Cabrio and buy a Mutsy 4rider!) if ours doesn't have the fabled foam.

I've been doing lots of web searching and have emailed Graco's cust service but have not found any information about when EPS foam started to be used in their Snugrides. Any ideas for searching or actual information about this question would be greatly useful to those of us with older Snugrides!

Thanks much!!

Jake

Hey Jake,

Not sure if anyone answered your question yet, DT might have?

But the EPS foam only just now, in the 2007 models is a part of every snugride. I don't believe that any models as early as 2002 were equipped with it, but I could be wrong. If you tell me the model name I would be able to tell you, also, you could call Graco and ask, or you could just look. The foam, if it were EPS would be a white color where as the regular foam is yellowish in color.

If you are going to buy a new model with the EPS foam, all SR's now come with it, however, they are the brand new models so it's not clear exactly when those patterns that were already out will have old '06 models off the shelves so watch for model numbers ending in 3's... these will have the foam.

Sorry that was long... hope it helps.

Hi Rachel,

Thanks much for the response. I just now got the response from Graco: No go on this model. No EPS foam in it. I didn't ask for the general info about when foam began to be included so I'm still in the dark about that. But, anyway, guess I need to buy a new Snugride.

Thanks much!

Jake

How wrong you are!!!!!
See the Consumer Reports retraction!!!!

[thanks, Tom, it's on the front page of the site right now. Consumer Reports is still right about everything but the data, for whatever that's worth.-ed.]

We are graduating our 10 month old son to a new car seat and are trying to figure out the following: 1. what is (are) the practical difference(s) between the Maxi-Cosi PrioriFix and the Maxi-Cosi Tobi, 2. is one of these "better" than the other, 3. will the IsoFix system work in the US in a car which utilizes LATCH? Our 6 year old daughter had a Maxi-Cosi Priori which we loved, but when we made that purchase several years ago we were able to buy it on-line from a US distributor. Obviously we can't do that now (for some reason I cannot fathom). Since we will have to ship the seat from the Netherlands, I want to make sure that we "choose wisely".

It's curious to me that in the wake of the whole Consumer Reports fiasco more people haven't focused on the fact that the two things that don't change about their findings are that the European standards for carseats are higher than in the US and that the EUR carseats actually passed the flawed tests with flying colors. Now would someone like to explain to me why it is that I should buy an inferior product to protect my child? Anyone? I am incredulous that anyone would raise a lame excuse having to do with saving a couple of hundred dollars or worrying about customs and insurance. How much is your child's life worth to you? How much do you spend on Starbucks, beer, tickets to sporting events, etc. in a year? Seriously.

Tangent complete. Info on the Maxi-Cosi mentioned above is much appreciated. Cheers!

We are living in England now and had to buy new carseats here as were told our American seats were not legal. I have heard that EU testing is much stricter and the seats are safer but one thing that bothers me is they do NOT sell seats that harness past 40 lbs here. Also, in the STates all carseats have an expiration date but here they do not, at least my brand new Britax seats do not.

Also, for those living in the States and buying EU carseats, do you not get in trouble for not having a 5 pt harness since none of the seats here have a chest clip (it's illegal to have one)?

We live in Grand Cayman, where we use US car seats (Britax Marathon & 2 Britax Parkways), 3 across the back seat in our Honda Odyssey. We are moving to the Channel Islands (UK) soon, and will be driving to England and France 2-3 times a year (motorways etc). I'm hoping to buy a smaller car (the roads are so narrow over there!), and was going to bring our car seats. But now I read that its illegal, or at least not advisable - arg! My 3 kids are 4 (over 40lbs), 6 and 9, and I really want them to fit all 3 across the back seat, and be as safe as possible. In the UK the Britax Evolva looks exactly the same as a US Parkway - any comments?
Should we bring our US seats - I thought they were very safe (only 2/3 years old), they fit across the back row with room to spare. If they are safe here/in the US, why are they not safe there? Do Britax really have lower standards in the US than the UK?
Of course my childrens' safety is paramount - and if I should buy new car seats I will - I was looking at the Britax Evolva Ultra (I could get two Isofix and one regular) or the Jane Indy Plus (again two Isofix one regular). Any other European boosters recommended? Ideally thin, and with side impact protection?
Thanks for any comments!
PS I am buying a car with 3 proper (lap and shoulder) seat belts in the back - was thinking of Toyota Corolla Verso if that helps.

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