January 18, 2007

AWKWARD! Consumer Reports Updates Car Seat Study: 'Never Mind."

emily_litella_never_mind.jpgYeah, so. Have you put that deathtrap carseat of yours on Craigslist yet? You might want to just hold off for a minute while Consumer Reports gets their glasses checked. They recalled their recent pot-stirring car seat test results after the NHTSA reported flaws in how the side impact portion of the test was conducted. Turns out CR's testing method had created conditions equivalent of a 70mph side impact, not the 38mph they first thought. When tested by NHTSA at 38mph, all the car seats on CR's list stayed in their bases and passed the test.

Something tells me this still won't be enough to get CR staffers back on the list for the Hospitality Suite at this year's JPMA convention. Don't worry, though; Europe is still better, giant corporations are still bad, and the government still doesn't car about your safety. It's just that there's not currently data available to prove it.

update: And yes, you may resume scoffing at my European car seat.

update-update: More details coming out via the NYT: CR had outsourced the test to a contractor [an unnamed testing lab] and is now conducting an investigation. The retraction followed the NHTSA's hastily organized attempt over the weekend to replicate the results CR had originally reported. NHTSA couldn't do it.

CONSUMER REPORTS WITHDRAWS INFANT CAR SEAT REPORT [consumerreports.org via cnn, thanks i hate snaps' kaz]
Previous headlines come back to haunt you. And by you, I mean me: Consumer Reports: Daddy Types Was Right About The Car Seat

17 Comments

Things would be so much easier if they just let us duct tape the kids in.

The safety would never be an issue.

Doesn't it suck to be Consumer Reports.

Actually, I'd say it doesn't, because every side-impact test done anywhere is severely flawed: There's just not enough energy in the collisions.

A 3,000-odd pound vehicle at 38mph? That's the cream-puff test. A Chevy Malibu in a parking lot.

They SHOULD be testing with a Subarban at 50 (or more) miles per hour. Why not test in the maximal case rather than a minimal test? (Probably because it would show what meatgrinders the big SUVs really are)

So what Consumer Reports has done by mistake is exactly what they should be doing. ;-)

Do you get the feeling that CR's tests truly simulated a 38mph crash, while the government's "38mph" is likely a tap on the door? How can the test setups provide such a difference in measured speed? Hopefully the NHTSA's claim that CR measured incorrectly will bring to light the NHTSA's faulty testing.

[According to NHTSA Spokeswoman Marita Covarrubias, the government's tests are indisputable. -ed.]

I still don't get why this is such a bad thing - even if CR's conditions were equal to 70 mph, I feel safer knowing that my Snugride car seat will stay in the base whether I'm driving on local roads or the highway. Am I the only one who drives at speeds higher than 38 mph??? :P

creative Type dad, you are obviously one of those "close enough for government work" North American parents.
As Monsieur Greg could tell you, the European-spec calls for duct tape AND bubble-wrap.

An important thing to understand is that the correlation between speed and kinetic energy isn't linear; the energy increases with the square of speed. So a 70mph side impact has to dissipate 4 times the kinetic energy of a 35mph impact. A 70mph side impact is pretty much unsurvivable for all occupants in the vast majority of today's vehicles, unless you get extremely lucky. Cars just don't have enough space for crumple zones to the sides to mitigate the acceleration. It's a tremendous amount of kinetic energy to have to dissipate, and side airbags can only do so much. They mainly keep you from impacting your head against the side of the car, a feat which becomes largely impossible as that side intrudes further into the passenger cabin. Add to that the tremendous lateral acceleration you're subjected to in a side impact- all while your head is sitting on a seat with no lateral head bolster at all. If cracking your noggin on the B pillar doesn't get you, the basilar skull fracture on the rebound will. A kid in a car seat, with his/her head surrounded by lots of foam, stands a much better chance of surviving a crash like that than you do, even if the seat becomes detached.

The IIHS side impact test sled is 3300 pounds (a bit light), but with a big square front end like an SUV. They have a good description and video of their test here: http://www.iihs.org/ratings/side_test_info.html They also make clear that in a 31mph side impact in a vehicle with good protection, you're more than likely going to leave the scene on a stretcher. If you watch the video, you'll see that even 31mph is a hell of a hit.

I don't think this story is accurate when it says that the government tested the side impact on infanct car seats at 38MPH. They have never done this. They only test head on colisions for car seats at 30MPH. They test cars for side impact at 38, but they have never tested infant car seats for side impact at any speed 70MPH, 38MPH, or 1MPH. The federal government doesn't require it. That is the dirty secret that should scare all of us.

The original report was dubious because of the high failure result, which prompted manufacturers and others to get involved (a good thing). Second, CR never divulged who did the testing; instead, they released the findings and recommendations as though their own lab scientists did the work. That was intellectually dishonest now that we know CR outsourced the work. If you didn't do the testing, then don't say you did!

Last but not least, CR knew the testing was outsourced, so they should have been all the more careful. In journalism and in science in general, it's called double-checking and triple-checking your work. Obviously, CR did not really vet anything but rushed to print because they knew it would cause a media frenzy. Another intellectually dishonest act.

Almost everyone is applauding CR now for its "honest" retraction and so forth, but one must realize that it had no other choice since the NHTSA got involved along with certain manufacturers. It did not post a retraction on its own; it was pressured to do so in the face of NHTSA releasing its own findings and manufacturers threatening to do the same. A better move would have been to
retract the report before sending the test to the government or to anyone else.

The shit was about to hit the fan, so CR had to come out with it.

CR was reckless in its original proceedings, reckless with our babies and parents' fears. This wasn't about MP3 players or HDTVs. CR may never have erred to this magnitude before, but they should not do it again.

[no doubt CR screwed up in several ways here, but they seem substantively different than "intellectually dishonest," which implies either foreknowledge of the testing errors or of some other intent to mislead. I, for one, was kind of annoyed at not having more transparent discussion of the testing methodologies in the original report, but I assumed that was something reserved for subscribers. I didn't get the sense that they were trying to misrepresent themselves as executing the tests; so far, it's their name and credibility that's taking the hit, not the contractor they refused to name. As for coming clean now, the NHTSA tried to replicate their results last weekend and couldn't. That presumably led to CR reexamining the testing, and retracting as soon as they compared notes. For them to maintain any credibility at all, it seems like the only course of action. -ed.]

I say kudos to Consumer Reports for quickly owning up when its methods were challenged.

Kudos to Consumer Reports for testing (or at least trying to test) car seats at better-than minimal federal government standards. Let our lawmakers explain why European standards for safety seats are higher.

And kudos to those two manufacturers of car seats that withstood a 70 MILE PER HOUR collision! Promoted right, this should help them sell even more!

I didn't know that CR farmed out its research.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it sounds too awful to be believed, it might be...

For those still wondering about whether car seats
work, check out these photos our local newspaper, the Middletown Record, took yesterday of a horrific head on collision on Route 17

One driver was killed. It took nearly an hour to extricate the other driver and airlift her to the regional trauma center, where she is being treated for a lacerated lung, a broken rib, two broken arms and leg injuries. She's a mother. Her two daughters were in their car seats: the four year old has a broken leg and the nine month old has a broken arm.

Anecdotal evidence, but pretty compelling...

George

[whoa. though I've never seen or heard anyone around here ever argue for NO car seat. -ed.]

Just think how bad their injuries would have been had they not both been driving big, safe SUVs!

Oh, wait. Did I just open another can of worms?

SUV Owner,

ke=0.5mv^2

Had they both been in cars, "m" (mass) would have been 40% lower. Less energy, less likelihood that those kids would be growing up without their mother.

[I was waiting for the formula to come out. I've been moving all the dials trying to figure out how the hell CR's lab could've ended up with a 70mph test instead of a 38mph one. All I can come up with is they got v^2 confused with v*2 somehow. IDGI. -ed.]

To sum up: Do you want a car seat that survives a 38mph impact or a 70mph impact?

I guess you could begin driving at 38 mph per hour for the next half decade and upon identifying any potential collision, do the math and apply your brakes to bring the two cars down to the equivalent of a 38 mph collision.

Just watch this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEBC9PbjPv4

A vehicle has to be designed to crash well. Mass alone doesn't guarantee your safety.

Would you like to be driving a Ford Explorer if you had a split-second to perform evasive manuevers?

And how sadistic do you have to be to buy a big SUV knowing what you'll do to anyone you hit?

I drive 17 a lot. Yet another highway that needs LOTS more police presense. A quarter of all drivers on it are suicidally aggressive. But I guess that's about average these days.

RIP.

I am surprised so many people think the Snugride and the Baby Trend actually survived a 70 mph crash. That's not possible. The test was obviouly done at 38 mph for those two seats and 70 for the others.

People don't survive 70 mph crashes unless they are extremely fortunate and that is very unusal.

It is great that CR is being exposed for the phonies they are. They must be on the payroll for the asian automakers association. Gee, isn't it interesting that the "researchers" for CR used to be employed by Nissan? Gee, isn't it interesting that every single year, every single brand that is the best buy is an asian make?? hhmmmm..?? Gee, isn't it interesting that only their subscriber's input is used in their evaluation (which of whom have been eating up the CR propoganda and would believe everything CR writes.. afterall, they are the ones dumb enough to buy a subscription)??? Gee, isn't it interesting CR never talks about the severe cost of maintenance for the Asian vehicles, and how people get whacked at the dealerships for basic maintenance??? Gee, something stinks, and it smells like CR.

[Do you mean Asian-built-in-USA? Or American-built-in-Canada? Is it interesting that I've never given a damn about anything CR says about "best buy" cars, and yet I've been able to see what POS come out of American makers these days? -ed.]

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