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2015 4th of July Greetings

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Convertible Carseat Ratings – June 2015 Consumer Reports Update

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Britax Marathon ClickTight, Britax Boulevard ClickTight and Graco Contender 65 Score High Ratings for Convertible Carseats

CR rockIn June, Consumer Reports added new models to their convertible carseat ratings.  A few newly tested products did quite well, with the Britax Marathon ClickTight and Boulevard ClickTight topping the overall ratings.  The Graco Contender 65 also did quite well overall, just above its competitors in the budget “Best Buy” category of highly rated models.

With new weight limits on the LATCH system of attaching carseats, seatbelt installations are back, especially for heavier forward-facing children.  So, we love the ClickTight system for super easy seatbelt installs, and the Boulevard CT (Our Review) and Advocate CT also offer exceptional rear-facing height limits and appear in our Recommended Carseats list.   We also share concerns at Consumer Reports about a possible harness issue on certain ClickTight convertible models.  While new models are revised to address this concern, we still advise parents to check the harness system periodically to verify.

It’s important to point out that this round of ratings is based on crash test results using their previous testing methodology (30 mph, FMVSS 213 standard bench, testing with 3-point lap/shoulder seatbelt or LATCH and no blocker plate). Convertible seat testing with their new crash test methodology is underway, but those results will not be published until some time later this year. For more info on Consumer Reports’ new crash testing program please see our previous blog on the subject:

The Safest Infant Carseats? New Crash Protection Ratings and Methods from Consumer Reports

Currently CR evaluates carseats on several points, including fit-to-vehicle, ease-of-usage, price and crash test performance. We can’t comment on specific scores but after our meeting with CR last year, we do have a general idea of how their ratings are assigned within these categories.

They break down the convertible carseat ratings into 3 categories:

  • Convertible seats rated to 40 lbs.
  • Convertible seats rated to weights higher than 40 lbs. (what we call “higher-weight harness” convertibles)
  • All-in-One seats that can be used rear-facing, forward-facing and also as a belt-positioning booster.

In the updated over 40 lbs. category, the Britax Marathon and Boulevard ClickTight models top the ratings, followed very closely by another of our Recommended Carseats, the Chicco NextFit.  After that, the rest of the Britax convertible lineup – Britax Advocate G4, Britax Boulevard G4, Britax Pavilion G4, Britax Marathon G4 and Britax Roundabout G4 all perform well. The Graco Contender 65Britax Roundabout G4 and the Evenflo SureRide were rated as “Best Buys” because they offer good value for their price but they also received good scores in all categories.  The Safety 1st Advance SE 65 was also added to the ratings with a very good crash protection score, but a middle-of-the-pack overall rating.

So, what is the “BEST” or “SAFEST” convertible carseat?  We are asked this all the time as Child Passenger Safety Technicians and it’s worth repeating the answer.  The BEST carseat is the one that fits your vehicle (installs tightly), fits your child (is appropriate for their age/weight/height), and that you can use correctly on every single ride. And of course it needs to fit your wallet too. The best carseat is not necessarily the most expensive carseat you can (or can’t) afford. And it’s not necessarily the carseat that matches the rest of your nursery collection or the one that everyone raves about online.  While no one can say which is the “SAFEST” carseat for any particular child or vehicle, if you’ve selected the “BEST” one for your own situation and install and use it correctly, then it will provide very good protection for your precious cargo.

While we think our Recommended Carseats list is a great place to start when shopping for the BEST carseat.  The seats on our list aren’t going to work for everyone and every situation. Remember – what works best for *your* child in *your* vehicle might not be the best choice for your sister or your neighbor or your friend, and that’s important. For example, a loosely installed carseat or one where you can’t easily adjust the harness to be snug on your child is not safe. A convertible carseat that doesn’t fit rear-facing in your car is not going to be the best choice for your child either.

The Ultimate Rear-Facing Convertible Carseat Space Comparison – Size Matters!

You can find Consumer Reports’ newest ratings on convertible seats at their website, www.consumerreports.org. Unfortunately, you have to be a paid subscriber to see the full ratings report.

Bicycle Helmet Ratings: Giro, Bell, Schwinn and Scott

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Comparison of Safe Bike Helmets for Older Kids and Adults: Bell Piston Review, Giro Revel Review, Schwinn Merge Review, Scott ARX Plus Review

In our previous blog on bicycle helmets, we covered some of the statistics involving brain injuries to cyclists.  While serious injuries are not uncommon for adults or kids, fatal injuries tend to be much more likely with increasing age.  That’s not only a big deal for tweens and teens, but especially for parents!  But how do you pick a helmet?  Here are a few tips:

  • Select one with a CPSC certified label.  This means it passed basic requirements and testing.
  • Make sure it fits correctly.  If it is too hard to adjust or doesn’t stay in place correctly, it may not be in the right spot to protect well after shifting around during a long ride.  Most helmets should fit snugly and should not move much front-to-back, side-to-side or twisting.  Have a question?  Try shopping at a local bike store and have an expert help you!
  • Select one for comfort.  If it is too hot, or pokes you or gives you a headache, you won’t wear it and it won’t protect you.  Ventilation and padding differ greatly and it’s not always the priciest models that are the best ones for you, because everyone has a different head and preference.
  • Choose a helmet for cycling or one labeled for dual or multi-sport use. Models specifically for other sports like skateboarding may not be as suitable for cycling use.
  • Select one you like.  Fashion may seem irrelevant for safety, but if you aren’t going to wear it, it won’t protect you.  Styles vary a lot, from motorcycle style with drab colors  to ultralight racing models with fancy designs.

Much like carseats, independent testing is difficult to find.  To my knowledge, only Consumer Reports® has done additional safety testing of select models in the USA.  Their ratings of 22 models are available to subscribers online and can be found in the June, 2015 issue of the magazine.  I don’t know if their testing is consistent with industry expert analysis, but much like carseats, it appears to be the only independent testing out there.

Consumer Reports also tested youth helmets.  Their top choice was the Bontrager Solstice Youth at $40, available online and at local bike stores and Trek stores.  For tweens, teens and adults, you probably need an adult sized helmet. Below, I have quick reviews on a few budget models that were recommended in CR’s ratings.  In addition to being best buys, all three received very good impact absorption scores.  All three have dial adjustments that ratchet to tighten and loosen the helmet.

Quick Reviews:

Giro Revel (Left), Schwinn Merge (Center) and Bell Piston (Right):

HelmetComparsionSide HelmetComparisonBack HelmetComparisonInside

I recently tested four helmets, ranging from $15 to $150.  Do you need to spend a fortune to protect your head, or does a bargain model work just as well?

Bicycle Helmets: They’re Not Just for Littles

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SchwinnMergeWearing a helmet is a lot like wearing a seatbelt.  It can be inconvenient and even uncomfortable, especially to adults.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, 800 cyclists were killed and half a million had injuries severe enough to go to the emergency room in 2010.  Fortunately, according to the IIHS, helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent, but Safe Kids USA estimates that less than half of children 14 and under even wear a helmet.

Bicycle related head injuries send more people to the emergency room than any other sport, more than football, baseball and softball combined!  And it’s not just kids being injured.  The IIHS states, “Eighty-four percent of bicycle deaths are persons 20 and older. During the past few years, no more than 17 percent of fatally injured bicyclists were wearing helmets.”

So, yes, make sure your kids wear a good helmet and make sure it fits them.  And the same goes for football, baseball, softball and skateboards.  The NHTSA has a great page on bicycle safety education with tips and facts. Safe Kids USA has an excellent video on helmet fit for kids, but it applies to adults as well:

 

Take it from me, the cost of NOT wearing a helmet can be unimaginable.  Based on the statistics, it is just as important to wear one yourself!  This not only sets a good example, but adults in their 40s and 50s are most at risk of dying from head injuries sustained in a bicycle crash.

I’m a survivor of a life threatening sports-related head injury.  When I was 10 years old, I was struck by a thrown baseball that hit me above the eye while running to first base in a back yard game. There was literally a big dent in my head, and the depressed skull fracture required immediate surgery.  I was told that had it struck me an inch in any other direction, I’d probably have died.  A batting helmet would have prevented the injury and the long scar that remains on my forehead, too.  So, it’s not too hard for me to imagine what could happen to my 10-year old son or to me if we don’t wear our bike helmets.

In our next segment, I’ll review a few reasonably priced bike helmets that provide good protection for adults and older kids.  There are also some new options in helmets that may help prevent concussions as well as other traumatic brain injuries.