May 12, 2007

Heckuva Job, CPSC: 12 Million Car Seats Recalled For Baby Catapulting Since 1997

evenflo_joyride_recalled.jpg
somehow not recalled for ugliness

DT reader Throkky pointed out "the most sad/hilarious part" of the Evenflo Embrace 'N Dump car seat recall: It's actually Evenflo's third recall for the exact same problem.

It gets sadder and hilariouser, though. Since 1997, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued nine recalls for over 12 million car seat/infant carriers [see the links below]. All but one were for the same problem: handle suddenly releases, seat flips forward, catapults baby to ground, causes head injuries.

In addition, there were two recalls for defective, baby-catapulting, handles on almost 600,000 non-car seat infant carriers.

In ten years, over 7,400 baby dumpings were reported; 639 of them resulted in injuries that included a non-trivial number of skull fractures and concussions as well as broken limbs.

If there's a zenith--or nadir--of sad hilarity, though, it's the CPSC's response to repeated, large-scale hazards; the agency manages to be both unconscionably slow, lax or reactive and streamlined and efficient in the most egregious way imaginable.

The recalls included products from a Who's Who--actually, a "That's Everybody!"--of the Baby Industrial Complex: Kolcraft [754,000], Dorel/Cosco/Safety 1st [2.6 million], Graco [4.6 million], and Evenflo [4.65 million].

cosco_recalled_carseats.jpg
Though two recalls involved manufacturing defects which were detected and reported very quickly, most recalls had a similar plot to Evenflo 3: Embrace-N-Dump: they covered car seat/carriers that were produced and sold for many years. Defective carriers had been in production and on the market for an average of 4.4 years, and the average lag between a defective car seat going out of production and the CPSC's issuance of a recall was 1.6 years.

In Evenflo 3's case, the recall came a year after the defective design was changed, and seven months after the existing inventory of Embrace-N-Dumps had worked their way through the distribution chain [i.e., been bought by parents]. A similar lag occurred in 1999, when over 50 models of Kolcraft car seats were recalled just six months after the catapulting handle design had been phased out. Meanwhile, in over 6.5 years on the market, Kolcraft sold 754,000 carriers, and tallied up 3,000 baby dumpings.

kolcraft_recalled_carseats.jpg

Some might think that repeated incidents of babies being hurled to the ground by mandatory infant safety equipment made by multiple, major industry players would light a fire under the CPSC to start asking if there might be a larger issue, but that kind of "car seat half empty" mentality had no place at the CPSC. Instead, repeated recalls were apparently seen as a chance for the CPSC to streamline and improve the efficiency of recall issuance process.

In 1998, the CPSC won an Innovation in Government Award for its Fast-Track Product Recall Program. And by the time CPSC Chairwoman Ann Brown [a two-time Clinton appointee whose frequent media appearances showed her ambition to turn herself into the Dr. Koop of consumer safety, America's Mom In Chief] stepped down in 2002, you could even say that issuing baby dumping car seat recalls had become one of the agency's core competencies. Check out these quotes:

"This is a serious problem that puts infants at risk," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "The latches on these car seat carriers can release without warning. Parents who have this car seat should call for the free repair kit immediately."
- Evenflo Recall I, March 5, 1998


"This is a serious problem that puts infants at risk," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "The handle locks on these car seat carriers can release without warning. Even if you regularly buckle your child into the seat, parents who have this car seat should call for a free repair kit immediately."
- Cosco Recall, July 8, 1999


"Kolcraft is offering a free repair kit to address the problem," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "It's an easy repair to make, and it is designed to protect your baby from a very serious injury."
- Kolcraft Recall, December 20, 1999


"Evenflo is offering a free repair to prevent the seat from flipping forward," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "It's an easy repair to make, and it is designed to protect your baby from a very serious injury."
- Evenflo Recall II, May 6, 2001

As consumers collectively, we already have the attention span of a gnat, but as new parents, it's even less. There's little or no transmission of history of the products we buy or the hazards our kids face. In a daze of anticipation, uncertainty, anxiety, and beaming ignorance, we walk into bigbox stores and see baby products with brand names we remember hearing about, and we assume it's safe and tested, or why else would this giant corporation put it on the shelf?

Car seats carry an even greater aura of certified safety, which may either lull a parent into complacency, or which may, in some cases, be totally unwarranted. I'm going to do some digging and calling on this a bit, and see what the regulations and standards actually say about carrying a kid in a car seat. Based on what I've found so far, though, I think that particular baby got dumped into the cracks a long time ago.

Previously: Congratulations, You're Our 679th Faller! Evenflo Recalls Concussion-Prone Car Seats

CPSC Car Seat/Infant Carrier Recalls [via cpsc.gov]
Fall Hazard Prompts NHTSA, CPSC and Evenflo to Announce Recall of Embraceā„¢ Infant Car Seat/Carriers (May 10, 2007 )
Dorel Juvenile Group Inc. Recall of Infant Car Seats/Carriers (June 25, 2003 )
Dorel Juvenile Group Recall to Repair Infant Car Seats/Carriers (May 20, 2002 ) *
Evenflo Joyride Car Seat/Carrier Recall (May 1, 2001 )
Century Infant Car Seat/Carrier Recall (October 13, 2000)
Infant Car Seats/Carriers Recall by Kolcraft (December 20, 1999 )
Infant Car Seats/Carriers Recalled by Cosco (July 8, 1999 )
On My Way Infant Car Seats/Carriers Recalled by Evenflo (March 5, 1998)
Voyager Car Seat/Strollers In-Home Repair Recall by Cosco (December 16, 1997 ) *

CPSC Non-Car Seat Infant Carrier Recalls [via cpsc.gov]
Carriers and Carrier/Swing Seats Recalled by Graco (December 19, 1997)
J Mason Infant Carriers Recalled by MTS Products (December 8, 1997 ) **

* manufacturing defect noted within 1/mo.
** manufacturing defect noted a year later, sheesh.

4 Comments

Wow, this is a fantastic bit of reporting and writing. It would seem that the whole concept of car seat/infant carrier is flawed.

If I were designing an infant carrier / car seat, I would try to arrange the center of mass such that a handle lock failure wouldn't tip the baby out. Say by having two handles that pivot from the ends toward the center, like a supermarket basket. But that's so obvious that there may be some other factor I'm not considering.

Agreed though, this is a great post. The entire category clearly has some very serious issues that aren't being addressed. You would think that someone would be able to figure out how to make the "free repair kit," as Ann Brown offered so many times, a permanent feature.

I wouldn't be surprised if the kids were instinctively leaping away from the horror of those fabric prints.

Hey Greg, I though you'd love this piece of news. JPMA just announced their new board members and an Evenflo guy is on there now.

[why am I not surprised? thanks for the heads up -ed.]

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