Evenflo child restraint false latching
On September 18, 1990, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the largest child restraint recall ever, involving over 3.7 million child seats made by Evenflo Juvenile Furniture Co. (Recalls 90C-031, 90C-032.) The manufacturer agreed to replace buckles that could be incorrectly latched and result in ejection of child recall covered models made from April 15, 1985 through April 22, 1990. At time of recall, at least one death and five injuries were linked to “false latching” of buckles on Evenflo child seats.
The recall resulted from December 15, 1989 petition submitted by Center for Auto Safety (CAS), in conjunction with release of report (“Children at Risk”) that documented NHTSA’s failure to enforce its own child seat safety regulations. CAS’ petition focused on buckles used to fasten integral shield/restraint harness assembly on Evenflo’s “One Step” series. A key element to CAS’ petition was a search of all child restraint lawsuits reported to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the Institute for Injury Reduction turned up fifteen cases where children in One Step seats had a severely debilitating or fatal injury with the next highest seat being the Evenflo “Dyn-O-Mite” with six reported cases. Both seats were included in the record recalls.
Rather than representing instance of consumer “misuse”, false latching defect results from flawed design, inferior quality control, and inadequate usage instructions. In directions that accompany child seats, Evenflo instructs user to press down on buckle’s red release button when inserting buckle tang into housing. This advice, contrary to operating principles of most seat-belt systems, prevents user from hearing “click” that indicates proper latching of shield assembly. Correct latching without pressing on button may be difficult for many users, because of poor design and fit of separate buckle components. Recognizing this problem, Evenflo modified its instructions in 1987, adding that user should “check that buckle has engaged by vigorously pulling up on shield,” but company made no changes in buckle itself. Evenflo also produced film for its own use, demonstrating false latch problem.
CAS’ petition included results of tests conducted by the Institute for Injury Reduction (IIR) of Upper Marlboro MD; tests indicated that many consumers cannot exert sufficient force to detect incorrectly latched buckle. Sled tests run by IIR showed falsely latched buckle sprang open during crashes at less than 10 mph, causing partial ejection of child and “hanging-type” neck injury in many instances.
NHTSA granted CAS’ petition on March 6, 1990 by opening “Engineering Analysis” (EA 90-013) and investigation of seat’s possible noncompliance with agency’s child restraint rule, FMVSS 213. NHTSA’s investigation was spurred in part by back-to-back Senate and House hearings on CAS’ allegations. House hearings were chaired by Congressman Thomas A. Luken of Ohio who berated NHTSA Administrator Jerry R. Curry for failing to protect nation’s children from defective child seats.
Evenflo models covered by recall include One Step, One Step Deluxe, Bobby-Mac, Booster, Infant Car Seat, Seven-Year and Dyn-O-Mite. Defective buckles have black housing, and red release button with word “press” embossed on it. Evenflo will replace those buckles with units that are gray with red button. Parents who own one of defective child seats must contact Evenflo directly for replacement buckles, because child seat companies are not required to maintain names and addresses of owners.