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CR strengthens its policies in the wake of its flawed infant car seat crash tests

March 20, 2007
Douglas Love (914) 378-2437 or Lauren Hackett (914) 378-2561

Review of crash-test story by independent experts found series of misjudgments, miscommunication with outside lab led to incorrect crash test data

YONKERS, NY — Consumer Reports has completed its review of the erroneous crash-test data in its recent report on infant car seats and announced that it is strengthening internal policies and procedures to prevent similar mistakes from happening.
“We made a mistake, but we’re committed to correcting it, preventing similar ones and most importantly continuing to serve the consumer interest,” said Jim Guest, president of Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports. “We’ve also not lost sight of our original goal and intend to work with leading experts to develop more realistic crash simulations, improve usability, and remind parents to keep children safely restrained.”
The review concludes that Consumer Reports set out to raise the bar for car-seat safety—but stumbled instead into methodological errors with misleading results.
The report on rear-facing infant car seats was made public January 4, but withdrawn on January 18—a day after evidence first surfaced that CR’s crash-test results were flawed. The report attracted widespread public attention because it said that 10 of the 12 infant seats tested provided poor protection in simulated crashes.
Consumer Reports publicly apologized for the error and sent letters and e-mails to nearly six million subscribers informing them that it was suspending all ratings and recommendations in the article and apologizing for the incorrect test results. It is publishing a report in the May issue explaining the tests and how the error was made.
To prevent such mistakes from happening again, Guest is committing to the following steps:
• Confer more regularly with outside experts when developing complex tests. In some cases, Consumer Reports had already been working with outside experts in the development of new test protocols. CR will consult, as appropriate, experts from academia, government, and industry whenever it is developing major new test protocols.
• Refine procedures for using outside labs. While CR runs most tests in-house, it ran 11percent of last year’s tests at outside labs that had special equipment or expertise. CR will now prominently disclose the use of an outside lab every time it uses one. Where appropriate, Consumer Reports will hire a consultant with expertise in the subject area to review the independent lab’s test procedures and results. If called for, CR will retest at a second lab.
• Consumer Reports will redouble its scrutiny when test findings are unusual or don’t line up with real-world data.
Crash Test Review
After the car seat report was withdrawn, Consumer Reports commissioned two independent consultants to review the faulty test—Kennerly H. Digges, former director of Vehicle Safety Research at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates vehicles and child seats, and Brian O’Neill, former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which runs its own large crash-test program. Digges and O’Neill were given access to documents and communications concerning the project. The two also interviewed technical staff from CR, the outside lab where the tests were run, and NHTSA.
Mr. Digges and Mr. O’Neill concluded that Consumer Reports had set out to raise the bar for carseat safety but stumbled instead into methodological errors with misleading results.
The misjudgments that the two identified stemmed mainly from CR’s decision to develop and run its side-impact tests without extensive consultation with other experts. CR took that step based in part on its decades-long experience with front-impact simulations and because of the organization’s longstanding policy of limiting contact with government and industry to avoid compromising the independence of its judgment. They said that this decision ultimately proved to be a mistake.
The May 2007 article states that Consumer Reports does not plan any further side-impact simulations until there is greater consensus among experts about how to do them. CR also noted that government regulators had disputed the way in which one seat had been evaluated for compliance with the current government standard. That disagreement led to Consumer Reports’ withdrawal of its recall request and the earlier Not Acceptable rating.
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MAY 2007
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