It has been a very busy year for Graco. In February the company issued a recall of almost 3.8 million car seats after receiving more than 6,100 complaints from consumers that their infant seat buckles would not release. During the investigation the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA) notes revealed that the 3 types of buckles that were to blame for the issues were installed on 18 of Graco’s car seats.
However, only 11 on those car seats were recalled initially. Many also wondered why the infant seats were included in the recall as they used the same buckle. Graco maintained that contamination of the internal buckle components by ‘food, dried liquid drinks, vomit, formula, etc’ that migrates into the buckles over a period of normal usage caused the buckles to become difficult to unlatch or becoming stuck in a latched position. Rear-facing infant seats weren’t being recalled because infants don’t get food or drinks on their seats, Graco spokeswoman Ashley Mowrey said.
Just a month later Graco expanded the recall to include 9 additional models and 403,000 more seats.
NHSTA documents posted on the agency’s site state,
“After recalling the convertible and booster car seats, Graco continued to resist recalling the Rear Facing Infant (RFI) car seats that used the same buckles as the recalled car seats, noting several reasons for this position. For instance, Graco noted that RFI car seats were intended (by design) to be removed from the vehicle with the child in place, and that therefore unlatching the buckle was not required. Graco argued that this design feature of the RFI car seats significantly reduced the safety risk presented by a stuck buckle, including risks that occur in emergency situations. Additionally, and as noted in its June 27, 2014 DIR, Graco argued that the buckles on RFI car seats were less likely to become contaminated than the toddler seats which had already been recalled, citing the age and the developmental maturity of the infant occupant as a basis for this statement.”
Even though the company made replacement buckles available to those concerned about their infant seats, parents would have to wait until July before the rear-facing infant seats were finally officially recalled.
The third recall brought the total to 6.1 million car seats, which made it the largest child seat recall in U.S. history.
On Monday the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it is investigating whether Graco took too long to report a safety defect in its child car seats. The documents note that the company was aware of the issue being investigated and had begun working on developing a modified harness buckle even before the Office of Defects Investigations inquest began.
Federal rules require a manufacturer to report a safety defect within five days of becoming aware of it. If the investigation finds the company failed to report the defect in a timely manner, the company could face up to $35 million in fines.
“The Department is committed to ensuring that parents have peace of mind knowing that the car seat in which they are placing their child and their trust is safe and reliable,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Any delays by a manufacturer in meeting their obligations to report safety issues with the urgency they deserve, especially those that impact the well-being of our children, erodes that trust and is absolutely unacceptable.”
NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said, “There is no excuse for delaying a recall to address any safety related defect. If Graco delayed in protecting children and infants from this defect, we will hold them accountable.”
“Having cooperated fully with NHTSA for some time on this issue we are disappointed that they have decided to launch a further investigation. The safety of our products and the consumers that use them is paramount and underlies every decision we make.
We thoroughly analyzed all data related to the buckles and took the required actions to keep our consumers safe. We worked cooperatively with NHTSA every step of the way and will continue to do so moving forward.
We stand by our reputation on safety- that far exceeds Federal Government requirements.”