May 6, 2014 — The New York Times reports that Graco is facing increasing pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recall about 1.8 million infant car safety seats that have a buckle the agency says is defective.
According to the Times, the NHTSA has ordered a series of tests to see how long a malfunctioning buckle would delay freeing an infant during an emergency.
Earlier this year, Graco recalled 4.2 million child car seats and booster seats with a faulty buckle — “Signature”, “QT” and “QT3” harness buckles manufactured by AmSafe, Inc. The problem is that food, beverages, and other contaminants that inevitably contaminate the buckle can make it too sticky to open.
Some parents have had to cut the straps to remove their child. In a car accident, vehicle fire, submersion, medical problem, or other emergency, it may be impossible to remove a child from the car.
Graco has refused to recall 1.8 million infant car seats with the same defective buckle. If the buckle gets stuck, Graco says the entire seat can be removed from the car by unlatching a buckle on the base. They claim adults are more likely to remove the carrier from the base, rather than unbuckle the infant.
The NHTSA disagrees (PDF), saying:
“ODI believes that the hazards and risks involved in the delay of extricating a child from a rear facing infant car seat in any emergency situation are significantly increased and rise to the level of unreasonable risk when the harness buckle is difficult to open, or is stuck in a latched condition.”
In 2011, Graco was hit with a wrongful-death lawsuit in California on behalf of a 2-year-old child who died in a vehicle fire because her mother could not remove her from the car seat. Graco says the buckle did not play a role in the child’s death, but settled the case out of court in 2012.