January 26, 2007

Consumer Repents: CR President Says Really, Really Sorry About The Car Seat Deal

Consumer Reports President Jim Guest apologized--again--for the testing errors that led to their alarming report on car seats a couple of weeks back.

He also defended CR's practice of using outside labs for some of their testing, even as he says that CR takes responsibility for all testing they do or contract out. And he mentioned an investigation by an expert panel reporting to the Board of Directors, and a quick and thorough retesting of all the car seats involved in the screwup.

Consumerist gives CR a solid pat on the back for its candor. But as someone who got smoked trumpeting the report and defending it based largely on CR's reputation--which was frankly all we had to go on, because the details, mechanics, and methodologies of their was never made public--I won't really be satisfied until CR opens up more about their process and data. Interested, engaged parents with a neuron or two between their ears should be able to dig down on the results if they want, not just rely on little bubble charts.

Read Guest's full statement below or on the CR site [consumerreports.org]

By now, you've probably heard the news about my decision to withdraw the infant car seat report featured on ConsumerReports.org and in the February issue of Consumer Reports magazine. I took this action when we discovered a mistake in our side-impact crash tests.

We always strive to be accurate and fair, and I regret this error. Going forward, I want to make sure that our actions are as thorough and transparent as possible so that we preserve your trust as we continue to test, inform, and protect consumers. To that end, I'm writing you and the millions of other Consumers Union members to tell you what I know about the situation and what we're doing about it.

Here's what I know so far: One of our tests was intended to simulate how infant car seats perform in a side-impact crash at 38 mph. That's the speed at which many new vehicles are tested in side crashes by the government's auto safety agency. But upon reevaluating our data, we believe our tests simulated crashes that were much more severe than that.

Some of the questions I've heard involve our use of an outside lab to conduct the crash tests. While the vast majority of product testing by Consumers Union occurs in our own labs, we sometimes use outside contractors that have special test equipment or other expertise that we don't. This enables us to inform you about the safety, reliability, and performance of important products that we couldn't otherwise test.

That said, we expect all our testing to meet the same high standards, and our own staff oversees all projects. The board of directors and I are appointing a panel of experts to review this incident and determine what went wrong.

We're also retesting the infant car seats featured in our article as thoroughly and quickly as possible, so that we can publish our findings and help parents who are making this important buying decision. I've directed that we suspend the article's Ratings and other recommendations regarding specific car-seat models until this retesting is completed. In any case, I again stress the importance of what we say in the article: Any child car seat is better than no seat at all.

For 71 years, the staff of Consumers Union has worked hard to earn the trust of members like you and to build the stellar reputation we have enjoyed. We test more than 3,000 products each year, and errors like this one are rare. I apologize on behalf of Consumers Union and I promise you we're working hard to ensure that such an error does not happen again.


Jim Guest

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