Thursday, January 18, 2007

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Consumer Reports magazine was forced yesterday to retract a damning report on infant car seats after the federal government said test crashes on the seats were conducted at drastically higher speeds than the magazine had claimed.

The revelation amounts to an embarrassment for the trusted consumer guide, and a relief to parents who were frightened about their babies’ safety after the original report came out.

That report said most of the seats tested “failed disastrously” in crashes at speeds as low as 35 mph. In one test, it said, a dummy child was hurled 30 feet.

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said some of the crash tests were conducted under conditions that would represent being struck at more than 70 mph.

“Consumer Reports was right to withdraw its infant car-seat test report and I appreciate that they have taken this corrective action,” said NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason. “I was troubled by the report because it frightened parents and could have discouraged them from using car seats.”

She said more than 100 worried parents had called the agency’s hot line on the evening the original report was released.

Phil Haseltine, executive director of the National Safety Council’s Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, said the report had raised doubts among many parents about their car seats despite the “very rigorous standard at NHTSA.”

“I think it’s going to take a substantial educational effort to undo that damage,” said Mr. Haseltine, whose organization was created through a partnership of automakers, insurance companies and safety groups.

Of the 117 infants killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2005 nationally, 69 percent were properly restrained in child car seats, NHTSA said. The rest weren’t restrained in car seats or were wearing adult seat belts.

The same year, 244 children ages 1 to 3 were killed in motor vehicle crashes — of which 132 were restrained in child car seats, the agency said.

Consumer Reports said it would review its study, retest the car seats and publish a new article as soon as possible.

Consumer Reports yesterday said it had received information from NHTSA “concerning the speed at which our side-impact tests were conducted” — supposedly, 38 mph. Consumer Reports spokesman Ken Weine said new information from the federal agency showed that the speeds were higher.

The Yonkers, N.Y., magazine tested the type of infant car seat that faces the rear and snaps in and out of a base. It found only two of the 12 seats worth recommending, and it urged a federal recall of one seat, the Evenflo Discovery. Evenflo had immediately disputed the tests’ validity.

However, Mr. Weine said a recall was still being urged for the Discovery and for another seat that was judged unacceptable because it did not fit well in several cars. Evenflo Co. said yesterday that it had run 17 tests on randomly purchased Discovery seats in the last week and the seat passed federal standards each time.

The original report found that all the car seats except the Discovery performed adequately in 30 mph frontal crashes, which is the standard for seats sold in the United States. But it noted that cars are tested by federal regulators at higher speeds — 35 mph for frontal crashes and 38 mph for side crashes — so the magazine said it tested the seats at those speeds.

“When NHTSA tested the same child seats in conditions representing the 38.5 mph conditions claimed by Consumer Reports, the seats stayed in their bases as they should, instead of failing dramatically,” Ms. Nason said.

Mr. Weine said an internal investigation was under way and he could not yet say how the test may have gone wrong, or who, if anyone, was to blame.

• Staff writer Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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