The press release last Friday from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is big news for the CPS community.  Apparently, NHTSA has been ordered to develop a side impact safety standard for child restraints.  Finally!  Now, there’s no telling how long it will take NHTSA to come to a consensus on what the standard will be, how it will be implemented and when child restraints will be required to meet it.  Still, at least the ball is starting to roll on this issue. 

That in itself is pretty big news but the press release also states that all vehicle manufacturers will be required to recommend specific CRs that fit their vehicles beginning with the 2011 model year. To be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised by the time frame. Usually changes like this phase in very slowly – but 2011 MY vehicles are practically around the corner.  However, I do feel sorry for the poor schlep whose job it is to find CRs that fit and install well in some of these non-carseat-friendly vehicles.  Hmmm….. I wonder if they’ll be required to find CRs to fit in all the rear seating positions?  That could get tricky since some vehicles have a very narrow center rear position.      

Currently, Nissan is the only manufacturer here in the US to offer such guidance with their Snug KidsTM Child Safety Seat Fit Guide.  In Europe, vehicle manufacturers are required to recommend CRs for their individual vehicle models but with several key differences. The Euro NCAP Program requires vehicle manufacturers to recommend child seats that are crash tested (with dummies) in the vehicle.  They use 18 month old and 3 year old sized dummies in their frontal and side impact vehicle tests. Aside from studying the results of these impact tests, Euro NCAP also verifies the clarity of instructions and seat installation to ensure that the child seats can be fitted properly.  The downside is that apparently the vehicle manufacturers aren’t required to recommend a variety of CRs for their vehicles.  It looks like a majority of the vehicle manufacturers pick the same two, high-end seats for testing.  Therefore this isn’t a comprehensive rating system of European child restraints.

Today’s press release clearly calls for vehicle manufacturers here in the US to recommend specific seats in various price ranges that fit in individual vehicles.  It will be interesting to see which seats ultimately are chosen.  The Nissan Snug KidsTM Guide seems to include CRs in different prices ranges from various manufacturers.  They claim that their safety engineers have spent “…thousands of hours evaluating hundreds of child restraints by installing them in all the rear seats of our current Nissan vehicles”. It would be nice if all vehicle manufacturers provided consumers with such a comprehensive list for each vehicle model.  It would be even nicer if they were required to crash test a few of them in each vehicle model.  Only then could we begin to lay the foundations for a comprehensive, comparative testing program for US child restraints.