Need to know
- Saxon Frees sustained a concussion and broke his arm in two places when his Valco Rover came apart
- The manufacturer, Valiant, avoided our question about whether there have been other accidents with this or similar products made by the company
- The safety standards for the Valco Rover are voluntary – are they enough to prevent further accidents?
When Storm Frees' 20-month-old son Saxon was riding his Valco Rover Sit and Stand Toddler Board on 25 March, one of the metal arms that attach to the pram broke.
"The Rover just gave way," Storm told CHOICE. "The arm bit that connects to the board buckled, and it caused it to flip to the side and ricochet forward, so Saxon ended up being pinned underneath the pram as well."
Tradies working nearby immediately stopped to help.
"It was just an awful situation. They actually had to help to lift the pram and get him back out. He was well and truly stuck under there," Storm says, the emotions of the day still showing in her voice.
"We managed to get him out, and then it was a matter of calling my husband, packing the car and going straight to the hospital."
Saxon had broken his arm in two places and sustained a concussion, and his arm was also dislocated. He had abrasions on his face and head.
It was just an awful situation. They actually had to help to lift the pram and get him back out. He was well and truly stuck under thereStorm Frees
Like many children's products, the Valco Rover is not within the scope of the mandatory safety standards that apply to prams and strollers, but there are a set of voluntary Australian/New Zealand standards that the manufacturer, Valiant, could have chosen to adhere to.
The voluntary standards are more comprehensive than the mandatory ones, and cover things like durability and the secureness of locking and latching devices.
COVID-19 makes medical attention that much tougher
Storm also has twin daughters, who were about eight weeks old and with her at the time of the accident. That complicated things when it came to getting medical attention for Saxon. Since COVID-19 lockdown rules were in effect, her daughters and husband were not allowed in the examination room.
Saxon's arm was in pretty bad shape and the doctors in the emergency department said it was hardly the first time they'd handled a toddler board accident.
Every time we had to go to the hospital for an appointment my husband had to take a day off work. That was another nightmare in itselfStorm Frees
The orthopaedic team thought surgery might be necessary to get the arm back in place but decided against it in the end.
"It was quite awful. They drugged him up and I had to hold him. They had to manually manipulate his arm back into place while he was on my lap. They couldn't get to a perfect degree, but it was within enough range that hopefully age will help as he grows and it will straighten back out. At this point in time it's still a little bit bowed," Storm says.
Storm and Saxon had to have weekly appointments at the hospital but her daughters were not allowed to come because of the pandemic.
"Every time we had to go to the hospital for an appointment my husband had to take a day off work. That was another nightmare in itself."
Saxon had the cast on for about a month and it was changed several times. That was no fun either.
20-month-old Saxon Frees broke his arm in two places and sustained a concussion when his Valco Rover toddler board malfunctioned.
Valco Rover manufacturer calls it parental failure
Shortly after the accident, Storm got in touch with the store where she bought the product. "They were pretty disgusted, actually," Storm says.
Storm then contacted the head office of Valiant, which manufactures the toddler board.
"This is where I've been really ticked off," Storm says. "I sent them an email on the eighth of April to explain what happened and they replied to me on the 24th of April. So it took quite a few weeks."
When a woman from the head office finally did call Storm, she told her it must have been user error.
"The emergency room doctors told me they'd had quite a few accidents come through with these boards," Storm says. "They see it quite regularly. As soon as they said that, I just thought oh my gosh, that's a product that I thought was safe. You see them all the time."
But according to Storm, the woman from Valiant told her the Valco Rover is very safe and that there hadn't been any other such incidents.
The emergency room doctors told me they'd had quite a few accidents come through with these boardsStorm Frees
When Storm challenged her on this, the woman quickly qualified the statement and said when accidents had occurred the parents were at fault, not the product.
The way Valiant sees it, "it's not them, it's always been other people," Storm says.
The accident has made parenting three young children that much tougher.
"Newborn twins, add a toddler, and with COVID and what-not happening, just to be able to get out for a walk each day is all I need for myself, my sanity, and I haven't been able to do that since the accident happened. Saxon wouldn't go anywhere near the pram. He's quite switched on. He knows what happened to him. The accident traumatised him," Storm says.
When Storm brought this predicament up with the woman from Valiant, she suggested she use a baby carrier.
"Baby wearing's not for everyone. Baby wearing's not for me," says Storm.
Months after the accident, Storm Frees' son Saxon still refused to go anywhere near his pram.
Children's product safety a work in progress
While the safety profile of toddler boards appears to be a work in progress, there is a long history of failure when it comes to prams and strollers.
In December 2018, CHOICE revealed that 18 models from brands including iCandy, Stokke, Phil & Teds and Mountain Buggy had failed the safety test in our labs.
In December 2019, we reported the failure of 85% of the 47 double prams we tested.
And in March this year, two-thirds of convertible tricycle strollers we tested failed mandatory safety standards.
In February 2017, the ACCC launched a review of safety standards for children's toys, and in late June 2020 it announced an updated mandatory safety standard for aquatic toys, after announcing an upgraded standard for projectile toys (think bow-and-arrow sets and toy guns) earlier that month.
But Australia remains an outlier among similarly advanced countries in its lack of mandatory product safety requirements, which is why CHOICE has long lobbied for a General Safety Provision – the assurance that manufacturers have tested the product for safety before selling it.
As it stands, product safety defects in Australia often come to light when people get hurt.
Valiant Brands responds
CHOICE has not tested toddler boards recently, so we asked Valiant if it had adhered to the voluntary standards.
Valiant Brands Marketing Manager Ave New told CHOICE that the product 'has been independently tested to meet voluntary safety standards" and that the accident has been reported to the ACCC, as is required by law.
"We are confident on the safety of the Rover Toddler board. It has been sold all over the world under various brand names since 2016," New says.
However, the Valco Rover was tested according to European standards. Certification in Australia is "currently pending", New says.
The company didn't respond to our question about whether it was aware of other malfunctions or accidents with the Valco Rover or similar products.
We are confident on the safety of the Rover Toddler board. It has been sold all over the world under various brand names since 2016Valiant Brands Marketing Manager Ave New
On request, Valiant sent through the voluntary standards certification docs from Intertek, a testing facility in China, and GST, a facility in Taiwan.
We ran the documents by our in-house testing experts to see whether they indicated compliance with the Australian/New Zealand voluntary standard.
Our children's product testing expert Antonio says they appear to do so, though the test reports didn't include information on the test lab's accreditation as is usually the case (such as the Australia-based National Association of Testing Authorities or the Asia Pacific Accreditation Cooperation).
Also, it's not clear from the test reports that the part that broke on Saxon's Valco Rover is the same as the corresponding sample tested in the labs.
How about a toddler board upgrade?
The woman from Valiant had another solution for Storm's inability to resume her normal walking habits when they spoke earlier this year. She offered to put aside a new and fancier Valiant toddler product for Storm, the Vee-Bee Co-rider, which retails at something like $230, Storm remembers.
The offer fell flat. "I hadn't taken any compensation. My point was just, you need to get this product checked, because I don't want this to happen to anyone else," Storm says.
Valiant did offer Storm a refund, but she had to take the broken Valco Rover back to the store.
She checked her emails for confirmation that the product had made it back to the manufacturer, but it hadn't come at the time of publication. "So no testing has been done," Storm says.
You never want to see your children hurt, not like this. He's got his little zest back, which is good, because we lost that for quite a whileStorm Frees
Though many weeks have passed since the store where she bought the toddler board assured Storm that they had sent it back to the manufacturer, Valiant apparently still hasn't received it.
"We are aware of the alleged incident," Ave New from Valiant told CHOICE. "We are still waiting to receive the product back for evaluation and inspection. We cannot comment further until this has occurred."
Eventually, Valiant also sent Storm the Co-Rider for free. It remains unused.
More than three months after the accident, you can still hear the fear and worry in Storm's voice.
"I know it happened back in March, but it's my baby. You never want to see your children hurt, not like this. He's got his little zest back, which is good, because we lost that for quite a while."