Evenflo, Maker of the “Big Kid” Booster Seat, Put Profits Over Child Safety
The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
“There’s nothing more precious than the lives of our children and nothing lower than deceiving parents into thinking a child car seat is safe for your son or daughter, when it isn’t. The federal government is eight years overdue to update its side crash test for child safety seats, and Evenflo appears even more overdue to find its conscience when it comes to marketing claims.” – Jason Levine, Executive Director
by Daniela Porat and Patricia Callahan
February 6, 2020
In February 2012, a safety engineer at Evenflo, one of the biggest sellers of children’s booster seats, wanted the company to make a major change to its instructions for parents. He recommended Evenflo stop selling booster seats for children who weigh less than 40 pounds.
Citing government research, the engineer, Eric Dahle, emailed high-ranking executives to tell them that children lighter than 40 pounds would be safer in car seats that use harnesses to hold their small bodies in place. Making the change would match Canadian regulations and better align with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A marketing executive “vetoed” Dahle’s safety recommendation, an internal Evenflo record shows. Later that year, the subject came up again. The same executive, who had been promoted to vice president of marketing and product development, expressed his exasperation. “Why are we even talking about this?” he wrote in an email, adding, “I have looked at 40 lbs for the US numerous times and will not approve this.”
Evenflo’s decision to keep the weight recommendation for its Big Kid booster low in the U.S. was emblematic of how the company — locked in a marketing battle with its biggest competitor — has repeatedly made decisions that resulted in putting children at risk. Not only did it sell its seats for children under 40 pounds, but Evenflo touted its Big Kid boosters as “SIDE IMPACT TESTED” without revealing that its own tests showed a child seated in its booster could be in grave danger in such a crash.
On its website, Evenflo told parents those tests were rigorous, simulating realistic side-impact crashes, which were responsible for more than a quarter of deaths of children under 15 killed in vehicle collisions in 2018. While less common than head-on crashes, side impacts are more likely to result in serious injuries in part because there’s only a door separating the passenger from the intruding vehicle.