New Federal Rule Would Test Safety of Child Car Seats in Side-Impact Collisions

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recently proposed new crash-test standards for child car seats that would make them safer in the event of a side-impact collision. The new standards would require car seats to be able to withstand side-impact collisions—similar to a “T-bone crash”—of  up to 30 miles per hour. Up until now, federal rules have only required car seats to be safety-tested for front-end impacts. Under this proposed change, car seats also would have to be able to pass side-impact crash testing.

A Significant Step Forward

The new test would assess the safety of various car seat models in protecting children weighing up to 40 pounds from injury. Daniel Friedman, National Highway Traffic Safety Agency’s Acting Administrator, heralded the proposed change as a significant step towards preventing child death and injury resulting from side-impact collisions. If a car seat cannot pass the test, it cannot be put on the market. For parents, this would take much of the guesswork out of trying to determine which car seat model provides the best protection. Currently, they must rely on the advertising claims of manufacturers.

Child Safety Initiatives Stalled by Bureaucracy

Deaths of children riding in car seats have declined dramatically in recent years: from 614 in 2002 to 397 in 2011. Still, doctors and consumer advocates feel that more needs to be done in the way of protecting children in car seats. Accidental injury is the #1 cause of death among children, and auto accidents account for many of those fatalities.

The new rule is in response to a directive issued by Congress years ago. Consumer advocates have expressed frustration that it takes the government far too long to act on such directives. In response, Mr. Friedman, who has recently stepped into the agency’s top position, said that he and his staff will work aggressively to address this and other child safety initiatives.

Proper Installation of Car Seats Still the Biggest Problem

Mr. Friedman noted that one of the biggest problems related to car seat safety has to do with continuing confusion as to how to properly install them. His agency estimates that three out of four car seats are installed improperly. He observed that the single most important precaution a caregiver can take is to make sure the car seat is properly installed and that their child is securely buckled in.

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