The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was created to make the nation’s roadways and the vehicles that travel them as safe as possible. Their mission extends to every passenger in every vehicle, including the smallest travelers. Safety concerns for children have led the agency to issue a recall request to the manufacturer of approximately 3.8 million car safety seats designed for children. The seats’ buckles don’t always come unlatched, leaving children trapped inside them.

The recall involves 11 different forward-facing models designed for toddlers and older children but it does not include seven rear-facing safety seats designed for infant use. The manufacturer, Graco, uses the same buckles for all 18 models. The company’s refusal to include the infant seats in the recall has led the NHTSA to issue threats of civil penalties and to demand Graco remove statements on its website that downplay the serious nature of the recall.

Graco claims the buckles become stuck only when spilled foods and beverages and sticky fingers make them difficult to unlatch. Since infants do not feed themselves in transit, the company feels the need to include infant seats in the recall is irrelevant. As is, this is the fourth-largest recall of child safety seats in US history.

The NHTSA, which began an investigation of the Graco seats in October 2012, is demanding a formal explanation for its refusal to include infant seats in the recall. According to Graco, there are no reports of any child of any age getting injured by the buckle defect but the NHTSA has a record of adults cutting the seat restraints in order to free children. Children trapped in car seats are at increased risk of injury should a fire, crash, or other emergency situation arise.

Graco spokesperson Ashley Mowrey says the company began sending replacement buckles last summer to the owners of infant safety seats if requested. The company also sends tips for cleaning the buckles and instructions for replacing them. A how-to video on the company’s website also provides instructions for cleaning and replacing the buckles.

Owners of the Graco seats under the recall order are urged to use another brand or model car safety seat until their Graco model is replaced or repaired. Replacement is free to owners of the recalled forward-facing seats as are buckles for the infants’ rear-facing seats.

In January 2014, the NHTSA expanded its investigation of defective buckles on children’s car safety seats to include four models made by Evenflo. Both Graco and Evenflo use buckles manufactured by AmSafe Commercial Products, Inc., in Elkhart, Indiana.

Source: “Documents Related to Graco Car Seat Recalls (Feb. 11, 2014).” US Department of Transportation. Feb 11, 2014. Web. Feb 18, 2014.

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