A congressional subcommittee on Wednesday criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to protect children from injury and death in side crashes and asked the agency to justify why it had not adopted all the stricter safety rules that members of Congress had imposed. .
The scrutiny of car seat safety standards is part of an investigation that the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee launched this year in response to a ProPublica survey. This story revealed that Evenflo, maker of the popular Big Kid booster, marketed the seat as “side impact tested” when the company’s own tests showed a child using it could be paralyzed or killed in the process. such an accident.
Evenflo was able to create their own side impact safety tests for booster seats and claim they passed them because the NHTSA has never adopted side impact testing standards for car seats and booster seats. children despite a 2000 law requiring it to do so. The bar was so low during Evenflo’s test, according to records, that the only way his booster could fail was if the child-sized dummy was thrown to the ground in a simulated side impact or if the booster was breaking into pieces.
Evenflo’s general counsel could not be reached for comment, but has said in the past that the company has been a pioneer in side impact testing and that its seats are safe, efficient and affordable. Evenflo, a subsidiary of Chinese company Goodbaby International Holdings Ltd., has sold more than 18 million Big Kid boosters.
In a pointed letter to NHTSA on Wednesday, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, and Representative Katie Porter, a California Democrat, told Acting NHTSA Administrator James Owens that the subcommittee “is aware that manufacturers continue to take advantage of this key regulatory loophole and market unsafe booster seats.”
In an interview, Krishnamoorthi asked whether NHTSA, by allowing manufacturers to set their own rules, had been captured by the industry.
“When we peeled the onion, we were just beside ourselves wondering what was going on here,” he said.
A spokesperson for NHTSA said the agency had received the letter and was eager to brief the subcommittee “on significant improvements NHTSA has made to the safety of child passengers.”
This month, NHTSA proposed a new rule that would ban manufacturers from marketing booster seats for children weighing less than 40 pounds, a change Krishnamoorthi and Porter requested in March. As ProPublica’s investigation in February made clear, the agency has for years allowed manufacturers to label booster seats as safe for children as light as 30 pounds, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics has, for decades said that these children are safer in traditional car seats that use internal harnesses to hold their tiny bodies in place. Booster seats raise children so that they can use vehicle seat belts designed for adults. ProPublica obtained videos of internal testing and other documents which showed Evenflo knew children under 40 pounds could be seriously injured in side crashes while sitting in Big Kid boosters.
In their letter, Kristnamoorthi and Porter said they welcomed the higher weight requirement, but noted that they had also urged NHTSA to require prominent labels on boosters warning parents that they are should only be used for children over 40 pounds. The letter criticized NHTSA for going in the opposite direction in its new changes.
“Instead of adopting a clear labeling requirement, NHTSA proposed to ‘reduce restrictions on labeling requirements, “allowing manufacturers to present information” in their own words where they deem most effective, “” they wrote, adding: “This will cause confusion.”
NHTSA is known to move at a freezing pace. The agency last proposed side impact test rules for child car seats in January 2014, but that proposal has dragged on for nearly seven years as manufacturers have argued over what constitutes a good test. Car seats and booster seats are currently required to pass a test that reflects the forces of a head-on collision. Even these tests are not up to date; they’re done while the car seats and booster seats are attached to a simulated back seat based on a 1974 Chevrolet Impala. This month, NHTSA also offered a more modern rear seat for testing.
And the agency’s 2014 side impact test proposal fails to address a key finding from ProPublica’s investigation: it does not apply to car seats or booster seats for children over 40 pounds. . By proposing to increase the minimum weight of boosters this month, NHTSA has made it clear that it plans to exclude boosters from side impact tests it may adopt later. If these rules are enacted, boosters manufacturers would still be able to do their own tests and pass themselves.
Likewise, the NHTSA standard proposed in 2014 simulates a collision on the side of the vehicle closest to the child. While these crashes are dangerous, Krishnamoorthi and Porter urged NHTSA to also require a test that simulates when a vehicle hits the opposite side where the child is sitting. Among side crashes, NHTSA’s own data shows that those that occur on the far side of the child account for 40% of fatalities and 30% of serious injuries in children sitting in booster seats and harness seats, Porter and Krishnamoorthi noted in their letter to NHTSA.
“The goal here is not just to say, ‘We the government have done something,’” Porter said in an interview. “The goal is to protect children. “
The danger of a far side crash is that a child’s body in a booster seat can slip out of the vehicle’s shoulder belt and over the lap belt, resulting in injury to the spine or lower back. the head.
This year’s ProPublica investigation documented one such crash on New York’s Long Island in 2016 that left Jillian Brown with an injury that medical journals call “internal decapitation.” Jillian, who at the time of the accident was 5 years old and weighed just under 37 pounds, was strapped to a Big Kid booster with a “Side Impact Tested” tag sewn into the seatback. Jillian is now paralyzed from neck to toe, steers her motorized wheelchair with her tongue, and is being kept alive by a ventilator. Pursued by Jillian’s family, Evenflo blamed the misbehavior and said the seat was working as it was designed to and had not caused her any injury.
Court records filed this month show Evenflo reached a confidential deal with Jillian’s family.