When you’re looking to buy a car seat, there are a lot of choices out there. Depending on your income, your vehicle, your child’s height and weight and your knowledge of available car seats, the choice can be overwhelming. A lot of moms go the route of just finding a car seat at a store that they can see in person, that fits their basic requirements and isn’t too expensive, and from there, they call it good.
Unfortunately, like in many markets, the most widely available products are often from some of the worst companies — those who cut corners to lower production cost, mass produce at a ridiculously fast rate, and are generally much more concerned with profit than their consumers. The phrase “What’s easy isn’t always right and what’s right isn’t always easy” is very applicable when it comes to car seat shopping. I’m afraid to say, it needs to take a little more work than running to Wal-Mart.
Because when you do, just how you end up with the syrup full of HFCS and food dyes and chemicals because they didn’t offer anything better, you come out with the same for a car seat, and in this case, most often, your cheap car seat will be manufactured by Dorel Juvenile Group. Dorel creates Maxi-Cosi, Cosco, Safety 1st and Eddie Bauer car seats. And I wouldn’t trust a single one with my child’s life, and here’s why…
When you buy a car seat, you can be sure that it has passed the safety requirements set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States. However, there’s three reasons that’s not a big deal:
1. Some countries won’t allow US seats because of how low our standards are. Canada, for example, requires use of a top-tether in all forward-facing car seats. Not all of ours even have one.
2. Passing the minimum standards is like getting a D on a test. You passed, but that doesn’t mean you did a good job in the slightest. There are much, MUCH better grades possible. One man, Dr. Ricardo Martinez, who used to be in charge at NHTSA during Bill Clinton’s term said, “It was very clear that the culture in that industry was to meet the standard, not to exceed it.”
3. Our standards flat-out suck. Dr. Martinez also is quoted saying:
“…the federal standard for car seats is so narrowly defined that seats passing the toughest of the tests–simulating a front-end collision at 30 miles per hour–can have serious problems at just a few miles an hour more and yet still meet the standard. We had seats where, if you turned [the test sled] up 5 miles an hour, the seat would disintegrate.“
Considering many of our roads even in town are way above 30 mph, that’s pretty freaking scary. I’m soon moving back to Colorado state where the highway speed is 75 mph. That bare minimum, if that’s all that’s met, would kill my children.
Refusal to Issue Recalls for Deadly Flaws
So, what’s my beef with Dorel? Well, let’s assume you bought a seat of theirs in, say, 2000 or 2001. In 2001, it was discovered that on Costco and Eddie Bauer seats, the straps did not meet standards on resisting abrasion (meaning they got thin with wear and frayed), and they also deteriorated in sunlight quickly enough that they were considered in violation of regulations. Remember, if your child’s straps break in an accident, your car seat is rendered useless and your child goes flying. This is one of the worst malfunctions of a seat possible.
Rather than recalling the seats quickly, Dorel argued about semantics of the regulations… and argued… and argued. Until 2008. Then they took their sweet time, finally recalling the 2000/2001 seats… in 2010. At that time, those seats had a 5-6 year “lifespan”, so though some were still in use that shouldn’t be, the majority hadn’t even been used for 3-5 years at that point. Dorel complained about the cost of notifying people for a recall… people who purchased seats a decade ago, who probably had long-since trashed them as well.
As Z Recommends points out, after issuing this ludicrous recall, three days later, Dorel would recall over 600,000 cribs. Roughly a month earlier, Dorel had announced the recall of 447,000 infant carriers for handle detachment and baby-dropping, and a month later, 30,000 Maxi Cosi infant seats were recalled because pieces could break that would separate the seat from the base and send it flying in a crash. Even with their strong refusal to issue recalls, they still recall things constantly. You can claim it’s because of the quantity of products they produce, but the fact is, their recalls are still more frequent, severe and often delayed than just about any other brand out there… which frankly isn’t surprising, considering they crank out “new models” of car seats faster than you can blink. Within 1 year of being released, the Safety 1st Complete Air has many different model versions. It takes other higher quality manufacturers 5-6 years to make similar changes to a seat, because of their extensive testing they do to each change prior to release.
Oh, but that’s not it. In 2001, they were fined $1.75 million dollars by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for knowingly withholding information about defects on products (cribs, mattresses, car seats, strollers, wipes warmers, walkers and high chairs) that had caused a handful of deaths and hundreds of injuries. They did change the production of the product and change safety labels… they did not, however, report the injuries nor voluntarily issue a recall. And that wasn’t the first time. Cosco paid $750,000 in 1996 and Safety 1st, $175,00 in 1998 for the same dishonest and dangerous practices.
Denial of Deadly Designs
Next up on the Dorel Hall of Shame menu is the Touriva seat… with the sadly aptly named “Notch of Death.” On a seat they used to manufacture, the Cosco Touriva, the plastic right next to the child’s head was not padded — nor was it smooth. Instead it had U-shaped ridges on both sides. The notch served no purpose, but the shell was the same mold as the seat of another model where those notches were used. But the result of having an uneven notch is that in the year 2000, an 18-month old Oregon girl hit her head on the notch in a low-speed accident… and fractured her skull. But sadly, that’s not the extent of it. Turns out, it actually caused brain damage. A 16-month old girl also suffered brain damage, is blind and at now eight years old, cannot walk, relies on a feeding tube and has no speech above infant sounds.
The Oregon family had photos from a nurse, and the indentation was the exact shape of the ridge in the seat’s shell. The fact that it caused the damage was indisputable… well, except, Dorel disputed it. However, the next year, they hired an engineer, who under oath, swore that they told him to create a 24-cents-per-seat cover for the notch… because it caused serious injuries. However, the cover popped off during crash-tests, so they never even used the piece or offered any recall or repair for owners of the Touriva. In 2001 alone, Dorel made a reported $25 million off this seat alone, but to stop production of the three molds for eight weeks — the time to fix the deadly notch in the molds — would have resulted in a $4 million loss — so they just didn’t do it. In 2003, they finally eliminated the notch in one of the three molds being made, and an engineer pointed out that eliminating it in one just raised more questions about why it remained in the other two. It took until 2005 for the notch to finally be completely eliminated, and though they paid out in both cases mentioned here, and more, they still denied being at-fault.
Lack of Caring about Safety Recommendations
One of the problems a lot of people have with their seats from a technician point of view is they often have short shells and harness heights, and up until recently, low rear-facing weight limits as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping children rear-facing until they are at least two years old, but strongly recommends keeping them rear-facing past that as long as their car seat allows, either in weight or until their head is less than an inch from the top of the shell. Prior to the new recommendation of two years old, the minimum was one year old and at least twenty pounds, but the suggestion to remain as long as possible still stood true. In 2009, Dorel said:
“We recommend parents to keep their child in rear-facing infant carriers for as long as possible and not to switch to a more convenient forward facing seat at the earliest opportunity. However, most parents around the world eventually make the change because rearward facing child car seats are simply impractical in most situations. They take up a huge amount of room in the car, usually necessitating the front seats to be moved forward, and they don’t even fit in some smaller cars. Unless the child is given sufficient legroom, he or she will be cramped against the car’s seatback. It can be incredibly difficult for a parent to get a larger child into such a seat and the fitting system is often very complex, increasing the chance of incorrect fitting. In addition, although rearward facing is arguably the safest travelling position, most of us prefer not to travel that way. It reduces the growing child’s ability to interact with those in the front seats, to look around and see where they are going.”
If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s wrong with that:
- Rear-facing is not impractical. You have to do it for at LEAST a year, so asking to not go and change things around but to leave them alone isn’t that big of a deal.
- After one year, convertible seats can be angled more upright than an infant seat, and almost end up requiring the seat to be pushed forward less than an infant seat does as a result.
- We have never come across a vehicle, aside from two-seat sports cars, that cannot fit a car seat.
- Children’s legs are flexible, and they often stretch them up the back of the seat, sit cross-legged, or put them over the edges. Many kids find this more comfortable than having their legs dangle. Heck, my legs are propped up right now. Also, if you’re choosing between breaking legs or a neck… “Broken legs, cast it. Broken neck, casket.”
- Larger children can climb in themselves, and often are glad to assist, and this is a poor argument against safety.
- The mechanisms are no more complex than an infant seat.
- Children can see out side and rear-windows, as long as your vehicle has them, and your child does not care if it’s behind the car or in front they see.
- Drivers need to be driving, not interacting with their children. Soft mirrors can allow the driver to see the child’s face and vice versa, and your car is a time for safety, vigilance and necessity — not play. Your child can still hear your voice, sing songs, and interact with you without facing forward.
In other words, they made up a lot of stupid arguments we hear all too often — none of which are sufficient reasons to make a child 500% more likely to die in a car crash. Way to show you’re dedicated to safety, guys. NOT.
Continuation of Production of Dangerous Seats
Am I done NOW? Sadly, no. I’m STILL not done. You remember the overhead shield car seats and shield booster? With the bar that just snaps down in front of the child, with the three-point-harness? Or the bar that the belt just goes over?
These meet “minimum safety standards” but since they weren’t very adjustable, small children were often ejected, or kids suffered injuries to the abdomen and head from hitting the bar, or to the spine from the body being forced to bend over the bar, which left some children dead or disabled. Dorel has paid out on multiple injury lawsuits on these seats, without ever admitting fault. $13 million dollars, in one case, is a lot of money to pay if you’re not at fault, isn’t it?
And though the American Academy of Pediatrics said in 1996 that these seats were dangerous, and should never be used for children under 40 pounds minimum, Dorel still sold them without this restriction… well, they told Canada 40 pounds was the minimum, but told the US 30 pounds was — on the same models, and pointed to a test done by their own analysts to say they were fine. Yet, when almost all other manufacturers had discontinued this type of seat, Dorel released a new one, the “Grand Explorer”, and with it’s low cost (often under $20 on sale), it sold well — 10 million in a 19 year period.
“Why do we continue to recommend the Explorer, in particular, for children under 40 pounds?” A pediatrician asked a Dorel product manager in an e-mail disclosed during a lawsuit. “Why wouldn’t a 35-pound child be in a convertible car seat or a high back booster?” Those types of seats offer more upper-body protection.
“Why?” the product manager responded. “It still sells.”
And that, friends, is what we’re facing.
A company who knowingly refuses to recall dangerous or even deadly products unless caught, who then delays the recall as long as possible, complaining about the cost of informing the consumers, who continues to produce a seat that everyone else warned against and even stopped making because it caused just as much damage as it prevented.
So I ask you… when looking at car seats, if you see a $50 Dorel seat and a $100 seat by another company, who will you choose? Maybe your budget is $50. Is your child’s safety and well-being more important to you than some movies you could sell, some blood you could donate for money, or even some services like lawn mowing or house cleaning you could offer on Craigslist? Given proper motivation, most people could make $50… or more… in a day or two, easily. Not only will you be able to buy a seat that will last you longer and be more comfortable for your child, but you’re also buying peace of mind, and the knowledge that you’re not giving money to a company who thinks informing your that their product might kill your child to be inconvenient and expensive.
It’s kind of a no-brainer.
And that, my friends, is why I will never put my child in another Dorel seat, nor will I recommend them to anyone, ever.
Tags: aap car seats, car seat safety, car seat safety standards, car seats, carseats, cosco car seat, dorel car seats, dorel juvenile group, education, safety, touriva notch of death, traveling with baby