Out of sixty-one infant car seats tested, thirty-one flew off their bases or exceeded injury limits in a series of frontal car crashes conducted by federal researchers using 2008 model year vehicles. These test results, however, were never published and some infant car seat manufacturers were unaware of their existence. The Chicago Tribune newspaper found the data buried in thousands of pages of test reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); the tests were being conducted in order to determine the safety of the cars, not the child restraints in them. This data calls into question the rigor of safety standards for such seats and the NHTSA’s negligence in failing to report the information to the public.
While a consumer may compare the safety of cars, there are no similar resources available to compare the safety of child car seats. Parents are left wondering which car seat to choose and whether conventional wisdom is accurate. For example, the most expensive car seats had poor results, and some car seats were protected in small cars better than in large cars. Many infant restraints that were strapped into cars with a five-star safety rating, the highest rating possible, also performed poorly. While examining the data, the Tribune found the higher injury ratings occurred when the infant dummy’s head hit the back of the front seats; in the sled tests, this potential injury would not be observed since there are no front seats. Manufacturers are also not forced to test side-impact scenarios, though when the government tested such scenarios, a recall of one million Evenflo Discovery seats was initiated.
In the video the Graco SafeSeat flew off its base; however, NHTSA officials are not seeking a recall because the seat remained connected in five other tests so it was not a "repeatable event". The agency is still analyzing its test results, though it claims that if car seats performed as poorly on American roads as it did in research tests, there would be a lot more infant fatalities or serious injuries.
Some manufacturers dispute the government’s results, such as Graco’s Children’s Products Manager, who claims the SafeSeat in the video was not properly snapped into its base. If the backseat of a car has a glitch, this too can create problems for a car seat. For example in a car where the backseat came apart, a strap that fastens between the baby’s legs ripped off. In a car where the seat stayed intact, however, the strap remained whole. NHTSA officials claim skilled technicians properly installed the seats and officials juxtaposed crash photos and owner’s manual diagrams to assure the seats were installed properly.
While the government said the tests were research, the results for two seats were so troubling regulators recalled the seat models and one manufacturer completely overhauled the way it evaluates its seats. Since the results were made public, the newly appointed Transportation Secretary ordered a complete review of child safety seat regulations and directed NHTSA staff to make crash-test results more available to the public. Former NHTSA administrator, Joan Claybrook, recommends automakers crash-test cars along with infant seats to see which products perform best with each model.