If you've had a baby in the U.S., you've probably done the obligatory walk to the car with a nurse, who inspects your vehicle to make sure you have, indeed, installed an infant car seat.
Consumer Reports came out with a (for parents) terrifying and (for the Evenflo Company, Inc.) damaging study today that detailed crash results from 12 widely-available infant car seats. To put it mildly? I never want to put a baby in a car again. Next time the nurse walks me out, it will be to the bus stop. Something I didn't know: infant car seats are only meant to withstand a crash at 30 mph. When Consumer Reports tested car seats at 35 or 38 mph, most seats failed, disengaging from their bases or (in four cases) flying out of them. Many seats would have "inflicted grave injuries" according to the Consumer Reports.
Newell Rubbermaid Inc. (NYSE:NWL)'s Graco Products unit has reason to crow, however; its SnugRide with EPS car seat was one of the two that passed the tests; both it and the other acceptable seat, the Baby Trend, Inc. Flex-Loc, retail for around $90.
The infant car seat is the ubiquitous accessory of poor and well-off alike. All children, at some time or another, ride in cars, and all babies must have infant seats. It's an immutable rule of our 21st-century society.
I'm not one to raise alarms about the safety of children: I often can only shake my head as the CPCC sends out yet another recall for a choking hazard. "If a baby chews on the little orange part of this toy, bites down, and crosses his eyes, he might be able to disengage the part and choke on it." One actual recall, for a nursing pillow meant to be used around the mother's waist for feeding the baby only, raised alarms that the baby might fall asleep near the pillow and be suffocated (no injuries, let alone suffocations, had ever been reported). The alarm is raised all too often; too many government agencies are out there crying wolf.
Evenflo, a privately-owned company, won't suffer a stock hit over this; and Newell-Rubbermaid is likely too diversified to see much positive effect. (In fact, the stock closed up three cents today at $29.10.) This is a story beyond individual stocks, it's a story which asks the questions, how well the governmental agencies charged with maintaining a safe society do at their jobs?
In my mind, the answer is too well, and not well enough. Although car accidents, as a cause of death among infants, is quite low (premature birth and SIDS are much, much greater as a percentage of total infant deaths in most Western societies), that's because so many dangers exist that threaten very young babies' lives; when you look at data corresponding to children as a group, car accidents are the leading cause of death. Choking on artfully-destroyed toys barely makes the list.
If the CPCC and the NHTSA were to spend their time protecting our young children, I'd much rather see them put more focus into helping baby gear manufacturers make better, less expensive car seats. Our kids' lives depend upon it.