The product, the Orbit Infant System, was rated “Don’t Buy: Safety Risk” after the infant carrier detached from its car seat base in two of six simulated 30-mph frontal crash tests that Consumer Reports commissioned at an outside laboratory. We conducted the tests using the guidelines for speed and impact crash simulations dictated by the federal standard for child restraints.
Although the Orbit system, which retails for $900, is not among the overall leaders in terms of sales, it has carved out a niche in the market thanks in part to its popularity with A-list celebrities, some of whom offer testimonials on its Web site.
The system consists of an infant carrier that can be snapped into either a car seat base, for use in a vehicle, or a stroller base, for use when on foot. Thus, it offers convenience for parents who want to be able to lift their child out of a stroller into a car, or vice versa, with a minimum of hassle.
The Orbit was the only travel system in our tests to show any failures. The other two travel systems we tested, the Graco Stylus and Eddie Bauer Adventurer, stayed attached to their bases during the crash simulations.
Of the two failures in Consumer Reports’ tests, one occurred when the car seat base was attached using the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system that is featured on newer cars. The other failure occurred when the base was installed with the three-point (lap and shoulder) seat belt that is standard on modern cars. Six Orbit seats bought from retail merchants were tested. The other four passed our tests, and all findings were reviewed by an outside child-safety expert who has experience in child-restraint crash testing.
Consumer Reports shared its test results with Orbit Baby, and the company ran their own tests at the same laboratory and found no failures.
In a statement to Consumer Reports, Joseph Hei, chief executive officer of the Newark, Calif.-based company, said that Orbit Baby has never received any report of a child being injured while in an Orbit baby seat. “We do not believe the test results obtained by Consumers Union are indicative of the safety of our Infant Car seats,” Hei wrote in an e-mailed statement. “Our car seats are used by children, including our own, and safety is our top priority. We strongly believe in the quality of our product.”
[UPDATES – 8/27/09 and 9/01/09: In later comments, the manufacturer questioned whether we had installed the seats exactly as the owner’s manual instructs and suggested that this may have contributed to our test failures. We explained why we disagree with the manufacturer and why we take intermittent test failures so seriously.
In a letter to parents who own the seat, Orbit Baby said it had run additional tests on the infant car seats, some of which used the same installation protocols that Consumer Reports had used. It reported that all seats met the federal safety standards, and that there were no seat separations. Consumer Reports and Orbit Baby each shared the results of our respective crash tests with The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and asked the agency to review the matter.
[UPDATE – 10/21/09: In a letter to Consumer Reports received yesterday, NHTSA confirmed that in its crash tests of the Orbit Infant Car Seat, the seat withstands the government thresholds for frontal crashes and is compliant with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213.
NHTSA’s letter said that the agency had run two rounds of tests. The first round of compliance tests took place at the same outside lab used by Consumer Reports and Orbit. Tests followed the standards for 30-mph simulated crashes required by FMVSS 213. None of the four seats tested for compliance detached from their bases. The agency’s compliance-test report concludes that the Orbit Infant Car Seat “met or exceeded” the standard safety requirement.
As part of its continuing research, the agency later ran a second round of tests replicating Consumer Reports’ test configurations and installation methods. Again, none of the four seats used for that research test detached from their bases. The agency said that it had also reviewed its database for safety related incidents associated with the seat, and had not found any consumer complaints concerning safety issues. It determined that “no further action is currently warranted” and said that it will continue to monitor the Orbit Infant Car Seat and include it in its annual compliance test program.
Despite the fact that NHTSA did not experience any detachments in its testing, Consumer Reports’ judgment remains that the Orbit Infant System may pose a safety risk. NHTSA is responsible for determining compliance and we applaud its efforts to do so swiftly in this case. Consumer Reports is responsible for ensuring that our tests are fair and accurate so that we can make useful recommendations to consumers. Our recommendations are based on individual results and on comparative performance. We believe that our tests were properly conducted in this case, and we stand by our findings.]
Consumer Reports advises that anyone who already owns an Orbit Infant System should strap the infant carrier directly, without the car seat base, into the back seat of a vehicle. Installed this way, the infant carrier passed our tests when it was secured using either a two-point (lap) belt or a three-point (lap and shoulder) belt. Obviously this makes the product somewhat less convenient to use. But used as a stroller, separate tests have showed the Orbit system to be perfectly safe.
When installing a car seat, if you’re having trouble getting it snugly in place, or if you want to check that you’ve done it correctly, you can go to a car seat installation checkpoint. To find the one nearest to you, go NHTSA’s Child Seat Safety Inspection Station Locator.
Meanwhile, for those in search of an alternative stroller, Consumer Reports recommends the Graco Stylus Travel System 7U02GA03 ($245). It passed all of our tests and was named a Best Buy. Subscribers can find our full stroller Ratings and reviews here.