The non-profit organization goofed when it reported erroneous child-seat crash data, and here's how.
A report in the February 2007 issue of Consumer Reports attracted wide public attention because it said 10 of the 12 seats tested provided poor protection. Some seats even twisted on their bases or flew apart during testing, according to their story.
Parents everywhere were horrified to discover that the car seats they considered safe were not offering the crashworthiness they thought would keep their children injury-free in a collision. However, it was revealed soon after that the testing procedure was flawed; based on a miscommunication about impact speed versus post-impact speed, the seats were actually struck at speeds more indicative of 70-mph collisions, instead of the 38-mph side-impact tests designed to mimic the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) test protocol used to evaluate cars. Currently, the government agency requires car seats sold in the U.S. to pass a 30-mph front-impact crash test--conducted with less force than vehicles are subjected to. The Consumer Reports project sought to subject car seats to the same level of forces as cars must pass in order to judge their performance.
Consumer Reports has owned up to the mistake in testing, and they have
done it in a big way. First, they withdrew the report as soon as they
became aware of problems with the test data. Next, they invited
independent consultants to review the tests: Kennerly H. Digges, former
director of Vehicle Safety Research at NHTSA, and Brian O'Neill, former
president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). These
experts were given access to documents and communications concerning
the project, and they interviewed technical staff from Consumer
Reports, the outside laboratory where the tests were run, and NHTSA.
"Mistakes are rare at Consumers Union but this one went right to the heart of what we do," said Jim Guest, president of the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "We had to figure out exactly what went wrong."
Recently, Guest sent out a letter or email to more than six million subscribers telling them about the mistake. Additionally, a link on the Consumer Reports home page explains the situation in detail. "We're committed to correcting the mistake and preventing similar ones," Guest says. His letter outlines a refined testing procedure, and promises that CU is "determined to continue serving your needs and earning your trust."
As a mother who often drives with a car full of kids, I salute their efforts to promote vehicular safety for all passengers, adults and children alike. As a human who values integrity and honesty, I salute their efforts to figure out the error and set the record straight. That said, I'm going to take a closer look at the two seats that did pass the overly aggressive test.
By Brandy Schaffels