Senators want answers from carmakers on front seat danger killing children

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DENVER -- Members of Congress are demanding action after an investigation by the FOX31 Denver Problem Solvers revealed deadly seat back collapses in vehicles that have killed or seriously injured hundreds of children.

Letters were sent to 17 automakers asking what’s being done to make their front seats safer. The action is due in part to a Problem Solvers investigation that caught the attention of Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette.

The Problem Solvers obtained the letters sent from U.S. Senators Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Hyundia, Nissan, Subaru, Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW, Mazda, Porsche, Jaguar Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Volvo and Audi.

In it, the senators cite statistics from the Center for Auto Safety that say “approximately 50 children placed behind occupied seats have died annually in rear impacts incidents over the last 15 years," refer to seat back collapse as a “horrifying danger,” and demand automakers provide data about how often this has happened and what’s being done about it.

The action comes just one month after a Problem Solver’s story about 17-month-old Taylor Warner. The toddler was in her car seat when the Warners' 2010 Honda Odyssey was rear ended and the driver’s seat collapsed on impact, hitting Taylor in the face.

“It was head trauma. The seat hit her in the face and that’s what caused the brain bleed they couldn’t stop,” Liz Warner of Littleton said.

The Warners are not alone. In 100 cases, lawyers allege children have been killed because of seat back failure and more than a dozen automakers have been sued because of it.

Seat back collapse expert and attorney Jim Gilbert said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is partly to blame because of its archaic seat testing standard that even lawn chairs can pass.

DeGette promised to take action.

“I will make sure we investigate the condition of these cars and the condition of these seats,“ she said.

On Wednesday, other members of Congress joined DeGette’s pledge for action by sending the letter to automakers.

In a statement about the letters, Markey and Blumenthal said, "The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a proposed rule in 1974 that would have made significant changes to seating system standards, but the rule was never finalized despite hundreds of deaths and several petitions requesting that NHTSA complete its work."

The Problem Solvers also learned DeGette has requested a briefing with the NHTSA regarding the seat back failure issue and the seat testing standards.