Back in March, we reported that child-seat manufacturer Graco was resisting pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall more than 1.83 million potentially defective safety seats. According to the New York Times, NHTSA is now conducting tests on those seats, and depending on the results, Graco could be forced to justify its decision in court.
NHTSA has been urging Graco to recall millions of car seats because of faulty buckles that restrain the child. In several cases, those buckles have proven impossible to unlatch, and some parents have had to cut the seats' straps to remove their kids from cars.
Tragically, one child in California died, allegedly because her parents couldn't extract her from a Graco car seat before the family's vehicle caught fire. All told, NHTSA has received more than 6,100 complaints about the devices.
Graco concedes that while buckle failure is moderately rare, it can affect as many as one in every 1,000 seats. Graco says that the buckles stick because children spill food and drink onto the buckles, making them hard to operate. The company blames buyers for the problem, though NHTSA insists that it's "completely reasonable" to believe that children will eat and drink in their car seats. The agency says that Graco should've foreseen this issue.
In the company's defense, Graco has now recalled roughly 4.2 million front-facing car seats. Graco claims that an additional 1.83 million rear-facing safety seats don't need to be recalled because of the way that they attach to a vehicle's back seat. Even if the buckles on those devices should fail, Graco says that parents can simply remove the entire seat.
NHTSA has responded that in the event of an emergency, parents shouldn't need to take any extra or unusual steps to remove their children from vehicles.
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Unsatisfied with Graco's justification for not recalling rear-facing seats, NHTSA has begun conducting its own tests on the devices to determine how long it could take parents to remove their child in a worst-case scenario. NHTSA hasn't given a timeline for the probe, but chances are, it'll be brief.
If NHTSA finds that it takes too long or too much physical effort to remove the full child seat, and if Graco still balks at a recall, the agency could take Graco to court.
If you own one of Graco's rear-facing safety seats -- particularly one from the 2009-2013 model years with a "Signature", "QT", or "QT3" buckle made by AmSaft -- you should at the very least familiarize yourself with how to remove the entire seat quickly from your vehicle. You might even consider getting another car seat.
As a division of Newell Rubbermaid, we know you've got deep pockets and could potentially fight this in court, but c'mon. You're making safety seats for children. Every day this drags on, your reputation suffers. Digging in your heels is a losing game. Talk to your marketing team and plan an about-face strategy.