The nonprofit newsroom obtained multiple years of Evenflo’s side-impact test videos, as well as thousands of pages of sworn depositions of company employees and marketing materials that laid out the business objectives for the brand’s Big Kid booster seat.
The videos and documents revealed that when child-sized crash dummies were subjected to the forces of a side collision while seated in the boosters, they were thrown far out of their shoulder belts. The company’s booster seat engineer admitted in a deposition that if real children were thrown that way, they might suffer catastrophic head, neck and spinal injuries—or die.
Yet Evenflo marketed its Big Kid seat as “side impact tested” and gave the seat a passing grade. The only way for the booster to fail was if the child-sized dummy ended up on the floor or the seat broke into pieces.
In addition, the company marketed the seat as safe for children under 40 pounds, even over objections from one of its own safety engineers, according to internal emails obtained by ProPublica.
Evenflo was able to promote the seats as safe because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn’t set any regulatory standards for side-impact tests for boosters and other car seats. Seats only need to pass a head-on collision crash test. That’s despite the fact that side-impact collisions were responsible for more than a quarter of deaths of children under 15 killed in vehicle accidents in 2018. Side impacts are less common than head-on crashes, ProPublica reports, but are more likely to result in serious injuries because there’s only a door separating passengers from the intruding vehicle.
Currently, there’s no way to know for sure if other companies’ seats are safe in T-bone crashes, given the lax regulatory standards that allow side-impact tests to remain secret.
And many car seat companies—at least six others in addition to Evenflo—continue to market boosters for American children who weigh as little as 30 pounds, against recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the NHTSA. Both organizations recommend children use a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the seat’s manufacturer. That means children wouldn’t move into a booster until they’re far over 30 pounds—some forward-facing harness seats go up to 90 pounds. The Canadian government has forbidden the sale of boosters to children under 40 pounds since 1987.
The ProPublica reporting provides more eye-opening details on Evenflo’s marketing decisions as well as a history of America’s broken car seat regulatory system, and is well worth reading in its entirety.
In a response to questions about the story, Evenflo General Counsel Amy Blankenship said the company “has been a pioneer in side-impact testing of boosters and other child car seats, and that it provides safe, effective and affordable products, including the Big Kid. Evenflo’s Big Kid has always complied with federal regulations,” she wrote, “and rules written by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration allow sale of boosters for children who weigh as little as 30 pounds,” ProPublica reports.