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U.S. probes Graco recall of 6.1 million child seats

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is opening an investigation into whether Graco Children’s Products Inc. delayed a recall of 6.1 million child seats — the largest in U.S. history and the latest example of the stepped-up posture of the auto safety agency.

“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.”

Graco could be fined up to $35 million if the agency determines it failed to recall the seats in a timely fashion. The White House wants Congress to raise the maximum fine up to $300 million per incident.

“There is no excuse for delaying a recall to address any safety-related defect,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. “If Graco delayed in protecting children and infants from this defect, we will hold them accountable.”

In July, under government pressure, Graco agreed to recall about 1.9 million infant car seats built between July 2010 and May 2013 that have buckles that could become difficult to open, expanding its callback to more than 6.1 million seats.

Graco agreed to replace the buckles that could be difficult to open after toddlers spill milk or other liquids. The company also said it will offer a replacement buckle to any consumer who owns one of 2.3 million child seats not included in the recall, but wants an updated buckle, under a customer service campaign.

“The safety of our products and the consumers that use them is paramount and underlies every decision we make,” the company said in a statement Monday. “Graco takes all consumer feedback related to our products seriously and we work diligently to make changes and modifications to improve the safety and usability of our products. We thoroughly analyzed all data related to the buckles and took the required actions to keep our consumers safe. We worked cooperatively with NHTSA throughout its investigation and will continue to do so moving forward.”

One complaint filed with NHTSA said it took 45 minutes to unbuckle her toddler. “We debated cutting it apart; we also debated calling 911 to have the fire department unleash it,” the complaint said.

In February, Graco — a division of Newell Rubbermaid — agreed to recall 3.77 million toddler and booster seats built in 2009-13 under pressure from the National Highway Transportation Association. The agency formally asked Graco in January to recall 5.6 million car seats. Graco expanded the recall in March to add another 400,000 seats built before 2009.

Evenflo Company Inc. said in October it had agreed to expand its recall of seats by 202,000 that used the same buckle — after it agreed in April to recall 1.37 million seats after NHTSA opened an investigation.

This means more than 7.4 million car seats produced by Graco or Evenflo have now been recalled. It ranks as the largest recalls for car seats in U.S. history.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com