Consumer Reports adjusts after flawed car-seat tests

Misjudgments, miscommunications cited in test that showed failure of seats. Remedies to include more expert input.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Following a botched infant car seat crash test that forced the withdrawal of the test results and a public apology, Consumer Reports announced it is changing some internal procedures and policies.

The changes stem from test results, released in early January, in which the magazine said 10 out of 12 infant car safety seats provided inadequate protection in side impacts.

Consumer Reports later received information from the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which called the infant seat tests into question.

On Jan. 18, two weeks after announcing the test results, Consumer Reports said the side impact test had been performed incorrectly. The magazine announced it was suspending ratings on the seats and would initiate a review to find out what had caused the problem.

In its announcement Tuesday, Consumer Reports blamed a "series of misjudgments" and "miscommunication with an outside lab."

"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.

2 key changes

The decision by Consumer Reports to develop its own side impact test without extensive consultation caused most of the problems, the magazine said. The magazine has had a long-standing policy of limiting contact with industry and government officials in order to protect the independant judgment of its staff.

From now on, Consumer Reports said, it will confer more regularly with outside experts when developing complex tests like the side-impact infant seat tests.

The magazine said it will also refine its procedures for working with outside laboratories. While the magazine performs most of its tests itself, 11 percent of the tests it ran last year involved outside labs with special equipment or expertise.

In some situations, outside consultants with special expertise in the subject area in question will be hired to review outside lab's tests and results, the magazine said. Tests will be rerun at a separate lab if that is deemed necessary.

The magazine will also prominently disclose whenever tests are performed by outside laboratories.

Kenneth Digges, a former director of Vehicle Safety Research for NHTSA, and Brian O'Neill, former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an insurance group that performs car crash tests, conducted the review for Consumer Reports.

The two were provided with documents and communications regarding the test. They also interviewed staff at Consumer Reports and the laboratory in which the tests were run, the magazine said.

Consumer Reports does not plan to perform further side-impact seat tests until there is greater consensus among experts as to how they should be done, the magazine said.

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