Federal Regulators Plan to Demand Safer Child Seats

New design would protect children in side-impact crashes.

by on Jan.22, 2014

Safety 1st claims to offer several seats designed to protect children in side-impact crashes.

They’ve already been credited with saving the lives of thousands of children but federal regulators want to make child car seats even safer.

New rules coming from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would now have to protect children from death or injury in side-impact, as well as frontal, crashes. The automotive safety agency estimates the upgrade would prevent the deaths of about five children each year while preventing another 64 injuries.

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“As a father of two, I know the peace of mind this proposed test will give parents,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. The new standards “will give parents and car seat makers important new data on how car seats perform in side crashes.”

A formal announcement of the new standards will be announced today by NHTSA’s Acting Administrator David Friedman. The proposal has been discussed and debated for a decade and at least some child safety seat manufacturers already claim to be producing seats that can meet the regulations – which cover seats for children of up to 40 pounds.

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The revised standards still have to undergo a period of public discussion but if approved would involve a new test procedure using a new 3-year-old crash dummy in a side-impact crash.  To pass, a car seat would have to safely restrain a child by preventing its head from making with an intruding vehicle door, while also reducing the crash forces that would be transmitted to the child’s head and chest.

The tests are designed to simulate a so-called “T-bone” crash, such as those that occur when a vehicle starts to cross an intersection after a stop and then is struck by another vehicle running a red light.  The tests will use sleds designed to simulate such an incident, according to NHTSA, which would involve a vehicle moving at 15 mph being struck by another vehicle at 30 mph.

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It would be the first test of its kind in the world.

“I think this is terrific,” Carter Administration NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook told the Associated Press.  Now president of the safety lobbying group Public Citizen, Claybrook stressed that, “We have an absolute moral obligation to protect children as well” as adults who are covered by current federal side-impact standards.

Safety 1st is among the companies already claiming to sell seats that work in side-impact crashes, with two models –the Advance 70 Air + Convertible Car Seat and the Elite 80 3 in 1 Car Seat – now on the market.

It remains to be seen when the new rules would actually be finalized.  A number of NHTSA proposals have been delayed, including one requiring the use of backup cameras that could prevent accidents when a vehicle is shifted into reverse, and another mandating seatbelts on buses.  But federal regulators say they hope to put the child safety seat proposal on a fast track.

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The announcement will come just as NHTSA prepares to issue a final regulation on the use of the child-seat attachments known as LATCH, short for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children.  Under the new rules, parents will be advised to tie down child restraining devices by using seatbelts rather than the LATCH anchors found in today’s vehicles if the combined weight of the seats and the child exceed 65 pounds.

The revision is expected to go into effect next month.

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