After an 18-month battle with a safety agency, Recaro agreed to a recall of child safety seats.
Source: New York Times, September 20, 2015 – The recall seemed to be straightforward enough: Recaro Child Safety needed to fix some of its car seats so that they would not break free during a crash.
But the path to that announcement, made last week, was anything but.
After more than 18 months of resistance by Recaro, about 173,000 child seats are being recalled, illustrating how long and fraught the recall process can become. The case follows another wide-ranging child seat recall, for models made by Graco Children’s Products, that was also fought by its company.
The Recaro safety problem was discovered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in late 2013 and early 2014 during routine crash tests to check compliance with federal safety standards.
The agency found what it considered to be a serious problem: A part that helps keep the top of the child seat secure could break during a crash, allowing the top of the seat to fly forward.
Federal regulators said this violated a federal safety standard and required a recall.
The company did not agree. In November 2014 Recaro filed a formal petition with regulators arguing that a recall was not required because there was not a serious safety problem.
One argument focused on the size of the dummy used during testing — the equivalent of a 6-year-old, 65-pound child. Recaro said its owner’s manual warned against relying on the child seat’s tether strap, which broke during testing, for children weighing more than 52 pounds. For heavier children, the vehicle’s seatbelt should be used, Recaro said.
The tether strap goes from the top of the child seat over the back of the car’s rear seat, latching onto an anchoring point in the car. It is intended keep the top of the seat from flying forward in a crash.
The company also said that having the part of the seat that holds the tether strap break away was not necessarily a bad thing.
“Technology has shown repeatedly that collapse, breakage and crumpling of material minimizes energy and increases the rate of survival for the occupant in the event of a collision” by helping reduce the impact, the company told regulators.
Recaro said that it had no reports from owners of such failures and that the problem was that regulators were using outdated equipment for the tests.
But regulators were not persuaded, saying in July that advice in the owner’s manual did not replace the need to meet federal safety standards. The regulators also rejected Recaro’s assertion that having part of the seat break away could, in theory, be beneficial.