Combi Center DX infant seat, which detached from the base during testing resulting in a voluntary recall in Canada.

Combi Center DX, since recalled in Canada, pre-test

I’ve spent the last two weeks digging out from under all the virtual wrapping paper, under a very special early virtual Christmas tree. Our government friends here in the great white north sent us a gift that may well give your Lady Liberty a run for her money. I haven’t seen my colleagues so excited since the last release of new Britax fashions. Transport Canada is no Scrooge, that’s for sure–with a free-for-bandwidth virtual haberdashery of crash test footage now available on the government agency’s website. This isn’t the usual made in China knock-off crap, either. You won’t see mom and dad’s old Mercury Monarch rear seat bench magically propelled into a thick wall of nothingness. Nope. Unlike your Coach purse, this is the real thing. Real carseats, real vehicles. The babies are still fake, but they had to draw the line somewhere.

If you haven’t already taken a look, click away:
http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/roadsafety/safedrivers-childsafety-programs-regulations-research-research-887.htm

Some of that crash test footage was pretty darn shocking, and I’m thinking you’re here because you don’t want your anthropomorphic test dummy’s head slamming into your vehicle’s front seats with such force that said dummy’s going to have more than just a splitting headache as a result. Either that or you’re a concerned parent, Child Passenger Safety Technician, or Children’s Restraint Technician. Perhaps you’re a member of the media reporting on the evils of child restraints and how they fail during testing–but you don’t quite know enough about carseats to really understand what all these failures mean in the real world. The real world..the real babies. The ATDs, however, come at a cost of into six figures. That’s a whole lot of in-vitro, if you went that route. ATD or the more organic version, a real live baby, we want to protect our investments…err..kids’ lives.

Hybrid-III ATD Family

Hybrid-III ATD Family

As a result of what we’re seeing in the crash test footage released by Transport Canada, I have some suggestions to help improve the safety of your children when in your vehicle. I will go through some rear-facing recommendations, forward-facing recommendations, and booster recommendations in this post. First and foremost, however, I need to make sure that each and every one of our readers (points at the media) understand that child restraints save lives. Many of the test conditions released by Transport Canada represented extreme conditions, either by exceeding weight limits or by exceeding required crash speeds. You’ve heard this statistic before, but I will remind you yet again–a 30mph crash test exceeds 97% of all crash speeds. However–this statistic doesn’t really help you if you’re one of the remaining 3%…or worse yet, your child is in the car when you beat said statistic.

The rear-facing tests released by Transport Canada were among some of the most graphic and concerning. We saw our six-figure babies flying through the air, still contained within their seat shells, as the restraint base remained fully attached via seatbelt or LATCH to the vehicle. Our 12 month old ATD did some fancy acrobatics, making numerous contacts with the interior of the vehicle. Babies, my friends, weren’t meant to fly. Unfortunately, I have degrees in Psychology and NOT Physics…but as far as I know, Newtons are Newtons and both speed and weight are contributing factors here. If you were thinking about pushing the weight limit of your infant seat until you could afford a shiny new rear-facing convertible on payday…payday January, 2010, that is…DON’T. And just in case you weren’t paying attention to all of that ATD-vehicle contact during that initial downward rotation, you may want to reconsider pushing your infant restraint’s height limits, too. Always obey the height and weight limits of your seat–in many cases the height limit we’re talking about is that 1″ of hard shell remains above the child’s head. But folks..we don’t live in an ideal world.. you know that extra 1″ of slack your neighbour’s 9 month old has in their 5.999 year old SnugRide? That’s even more distance that child can ride up and even more force that child could potentially strike the interior of the vehicle with. We don’t live in the days of moving from a rear-facing infant seat into forward-facing combinations anymore. That was the reality back in the mid-90s when my 14 year old was an infant. We go from infant seat to rear-facing convertible–so why push the limits of that infant seat? Let’s get those babies into rear-facing convertibles, installed at more upright angles and with more seat height above their heads, before their infant seats are outgrown, rather than when they are outgrown. Who the hell wants to lug around a 22lb++ AND their infant seat, anyways? Oh, and you…yes, YOU, the 6’6″ dude driving that Mini Sardino with his gigantor mini-me rear-facing behind his fully-extended driver’s seat…Did you consider that distance between your child’s infant seat, and subsequently head, and the back of your seat? Perhaps junior needs to relocate over to that empty seat behind your 5′nothing” wife? Just a thought.

So after a three..perhaps four…year stint rear-facing, your not-so-little one is looking out the front window, rather than the back. You have yourself a forward-facer, still restrained by a 5-point belt. And what did we learn from Transport Canada’s test footage when it comes to these little ones? Well, if you’re driving a 2006 Honda Civic and you have a 50lb chunkster in a Britax Marathon…slow the heck down, will you? YOU may be safe, but your child might not be. If you’re in that “other 3%” I talked about earlier, your child may be the real live crash test dummy waiting to happen. Some carseats don’t perform well in some vehicles, but look just fine in others under similar crash conditions. We don’t know why. But in the wise words of Douglas Adams, “DON’T PANIC.” Again, carseats save lives. Even in the gross failures reported by Transport Canada, injuries to the ATD were still within acceptable limits. I don’t know if this means you’ll end up with just a bloody nose versus a full casket, but for the time being we’re just going to soothe ourselves with that 97% number. There are a few things that you can do to improve the performance of your forward-facing restraint. For example–learn from the Canadians, and finally pay some notice to that dangly bit on the back of your kid’s carseat. It’s called a tether, and you attach it to a tether anchor…then tighten..and ta-da–junior’s head isn’t quite so near smacking the seatback in front of him during a crash. It’s there for a reason. Use it. And if you’re 6’6″ and driving that Sardino, you may want to consider how much distance your little prince or princess has between their noggin and your seatback.

Over the years, us technicians started a rumour about how combination seats make crappy boosters. Now Transport Canada has given us the proof. Those belt guide don’t just suck, as we already knew, they interfere with the seatbelt’s ability to stay put in a crash. Transport Canada did find that highback boosters with belt guides near the child’s shoulder performed well in their tests. Your Sunshine Kids Monterey is safe, then, right? Well, perhaps not–Transport Canada found that our now-school-aged “baby” ended up with more than just a tummy-ache as a result of use of the lower anchors to secure some boosters. However, we don’t have any information comparing the use of those rigid connectors with your Monterey’s soft connectors. Maybe that’ll be my REAL Christmas present.