News Archive

New Jersey Updated Child Restraint Law Goes into Effect September 1, 2015


NJ county mapOn September 1, 2015, New Jersey put into effect its new child restraint laws. These laws apply to everyone driving through the state, not just to motorists who live in NJ. Even if your vehicle is registered in Toronto, you are expected to comply with the vehicle & traffic laws of each state you are driving in. And that includes their child restraint laws.

We know that legal jargon can be very confusing and many parents who live in New Jersey (or who drive through the state) still have questions so here is a breakdown of the the new NJ carseat and booster seat law in plain English:

Children under the age of 8 (through age 7) are legally required to ride in the back seat* as follows:

  • Under age 2 (0-23 months) and weighing less than 30 pounds are required to use a rear-facing carseat with a 5-point harness. This means a convertible used in the rear-facing position or an infant seat. (Note: Most babies will outgrow an infant carrier before their 2nd birthday and will need to transition to a convertible seat used in the rear-facing position. Unless you start off with a convertible seat from birth and then there is no need to transition to a bigger rear-facing seat.)

Rear-facing only (infant) carseat convertible seat installed reat-facing

  •  Age 2 through age 3 (24-47 months) secured in a carseat with 5-point harness either rear-facing (until reaching the weight or height limit) or forward-facing. Having a 3-year-old in just a booster seat is not legal unless they weigh more than 40 lbs.

Diono-Rainier-Clara  Nautilus2

  • Age 4 through age 7 (48 months until 8th birthday) and less than 57 inches tall (4’9″) secured in a forward-facing carseat with 5-point harness or a booster seat. There is no weight requirement in this updated law – only age and height requirements. (Note: If you have an older child who weighs more than 80 lbs. and you’re having a hard time finding a booster seat that they actually still fit in – consider a Safety 1st Incognito Kid Positioner. It’s specifically designed for bigger, older kids.)

Evenflo SK Platinum - harness Jon Turtle Booster Evenflo Amp

  • Age 8 through 17 shall wear a properly adjusted and fastened seat belt

Passing the 5 Step Test

*Exemptions: If there are no rear seats (e.g., standard cab pickup truck), the child shall be secured in a carseat or booster in the front passenger seat except that no child shall be secured in a rear-facing carseat in the front seat of any motor vehicle which is equipped with a passenger-side airbag that is not disabled or turned off.

Full text of the new law can be found here:

NJ Updated Law

“Bin the Booster” Campaign


parkway knightThe “Bin the Booster” campaign is British Britax’s gift to the internet, much like Graco’s buckle recall—it keeps popping up in people’s feeds causing unnecessary panic and bewilderment on this side of the pond. In a simple crash test video, Britax compares a backless booster (portable booster cushion as they call them over there) to a high-back booster. In this video, the child dummy sitting on the backless booster rotates around the shoulder belt while the child dummy sitting in the high-back booster remains properly positioned.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 12.19.49 AM

It’s a marketing tool. Britax only makes high-back boosters in Europe (the backs can be removed in the U.S.). There’s nothing abnormal about the way either dummy reacts in this crash test. Crash tests are very scary to watch—the video slows things down to a speed to which we can comprehend what’s happening. If we were to watch it at full speed, at the end, we’d likely think, “OK, great,” and move on to the next thing. Slow motion gives great impact, doesn’t it? Probably the most important thing to notice, however, is that there are 2 different types of dummies used, and this can greatly affect motion in a crash test. Simply placing the stiffer dummy in the high-back booster makes it seem more appealing because it will have less movement around the seat belt. (As much as I’d like to take credit for noticing that, I am not a Euro dummy specialist. member _juune pointed it out in one of our threads on this topic.) Once you’re aware of this tidbit, you can see the dummies are shaped differently.

There are some schools of thought that high-back boosters provide better protection, especially in side impacts. It makes sense, right? By having head wings filled with EPS or EPP foam surrounding your child’s head and torso in a crash, there’s something to take the impact and spread the force instead of having their head hit the door or window or side pillar. On the other hand, having that back on the seat puts the child several inches forward on the vehicle seat, closer to the front seat and side pillar. In a crash, the child could much more easily hit the front seat or pillar, especially in a small vehicle. Are we starting to overthink things here? Maybe I can help settle your thoughts with this quote from a study done by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (bolding mine):

This study reconfirms previous reports that BPB seats reduce the risk for injury in children 4 through 8 years of age by studying a greater percentage of children aged 6 to 8 years than previous studies. After adjustment for potential confounders, children who were aged 4 to 8 and using BPB seats were 45% less likely to sustain injuries than similarly aged children who were using the vehicle seat belt. Among children who were restrained in BPB seats, there was no evidence of a difference in the performance of backless versus high-back boosters.

Let’s also add side curtain airbags into the equation. Side curtain airbags are fabulous safety devices for all members of the family, including kids in carseats. These airbags deploy straight down the roofline of the vehicle to the bottom of the windowsill, protecting the head area of passengers. A child sitting on a backless booster will be boosted up to have the protection of the side curtain airbags. Of course, so will a child in a high-back booster. This is assuming your vehicle has side curtain airbags, which not all vehicles on the road do.


So what can I do to make my kid safer in a booster?

  • Use your child’s harnessed seat until they outgrow it, which is when their shoulders reach the top harness slots, the weight limit is reached, or the tops of their ears are over the top of the carseat. If that happens before age 5, consider buying another harnessed seat with higher limits.
  • Use a booster seat. All the cool kids are doing it! Your child simply won’t fit safely in a seat belt made to fit an adult until they are adult-sized. Period. Boosters raise kids up so that seat belts fit them over their sturdy bones and are more comfortable.
  • Use a high-back booster in the beginning. New booster riders like the feeling of being in a carseat yet having more freedom, plus they have a place to rest their heads when they sleep.
  • Switch to a backless booster when they outgrow the high-back booster. Yep, kids grow and they grow fast. That high-back booster, even the tallest one on the market, will be outgrown by height before your child outgrows the need for a booster. So switch to using a backless until they can pass the 5-step test:

1. Can sit with bum all the way back.
2. Knees bend at the vehicle seat edge.
3. Shoulder belt centered over the shoulder.
4. Lap belt touches the thighs.
5. Can stay this way the entire ride.

Convertible Carseat Ratings – June 2015 Consumer Reports Update

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, Unfortunately, you have to be a paid subscriber to see the full ratings report.

2015 IIHS LATCH Ease-of-Use Ratings – plenty of room for improvement


2011OdysseySecondRowLATCHIIHS just released a new Ease-of-Use rating for parents to consider before buying a new vehicle: the LATCH ratings for location and use of hardware in vehicles. These ratings for 2015 vehicles—ranging from Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor—measure ease-of-use only and are not considered safety ratings. In their search for ideal access to LATCH, the IIHS researchers only found 3 out of 100 vehicles made their cut for a top rating! The 2015 BMW X5, Mercedes Benz GL-Class, and Volkswagen Passat win for being most LATCH-friendly. Most notably, the Toyota Sienna minivan, built specifically for families, fetched a Poor rating (see rating example pic below).

IIHS latch rating details - sienna

LATCH is a familiar term for parents and caregivers who must deal with child restraints. LATCH_sketchWhat is it? Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren consists of connectors on the carseat that attach to anchors in the vehicle and is an alternative to using the seat belt for installing the carseat. Most carseats have a strap with connectors that either clip or snap onto the connectors, which are found in the vehicle’s seat bight (fancy term for “crack”). The top tether strap is found on convertible and combination carseats. These are carseats that can face forward and the tether secures the top of the carseat to the vehicle; it greatly reduces head excursion, or how far forward your child’s head comes out of the carseat in a crash. Note: the tether is generally only used when the carseat is forward-facing although there are some exceptions. Tethers are awesome for forward-facing kids, and should always be used regardless of whether the carseat is installed with lower anchors or the seat belt!

Graco Argos 80 Elite Tethered Pria 85 tethered in Subaru Britax Blvd CT Tethered

LATCH has been around for a long time: lower anchors were required hardware in vehicles since 2002. Top tethers have been required in vehicles since 2000. Some earlier vehicles have anchors in them because the manufacturers were that good. When it’s available and parents know what it is, LATCH makes installation easier and parents usually get it right. There’s still room for error, but it’s basically click, click pull tight. However, parents have to be able to find the lower anchors and top tethers and be able to easily attach the connectors before they can tighten the straps. If the lower anchors are positioned too deeply in the bight or at an angle where they’re hard to access with certain styles of connectors, this easy system becomes difficult quickly. It’s important to note that LATCH isn’t considered safer than the vehicle seat belt for installation.

rigid LATCH connector

Rigid lower anchor connector

hook on LATCH connector

Basic hook lower anchor connector

non-handed push-on LATCH connector

push-on lower anchor connector

IIHS researchers used tools to measure the depth of the anchors in the vehicle seat bight and the clearance angle. They also measured how far in from the edge of the bight they are found. Top tether anchors were rated on their locations as well. The goal is to have LATCH anchors that are easy to find right away because they’re clearly labeled and easily accessed. Vehicles receive a Good rating if they have the following:

  • The lower anchors are no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat bight.
  • The lower anchors are easy to maneuver around. This is defined as having a clearance angle greater than 54 degrees.
  • The force required to attach a standardized tool to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds. (The tool represents a lower connector of a child seat, though the actual force required when installing a seat varies depending on the specific connector.)
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or on the top 85 percent of the seatback. They shouldn’t be at the very bottom of the seatback, under the seat, on the ceiling or on the floor.
  • The area where the tether anchor is found doesn’t have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor. If other hardware is present, then the tether anchor must have a clear label located within 3 inches of it.

Because these are ease-of-use ratings, the IIHS LATCH ratings are NOT safety ratings and do NOT mean you should stop using LATCH for carseat installation. Your back seat may be differently designed than the 2015 models that they tested and as long as you can get the connectors on the anchors, you’re golden. It’s the battle to get them on that IIHS is measuring, not if they stay there. One thing you do need to remember is that there are weight limits for lower LATCH achors that vary from carseat to carseat.

What Can You Do As A Consumer?

Be *that* customer. Be informed. Ask to read the vehicle owner’s manual—make the salesperson work for their commission. The owner’s manual will tell you exactly how many LATCH locations there are and where the tethers are located (look under Child Restraints or LATCH). It will also give you any special directions for using the top tether. A Marginal or Poor LATCH rating shouldn’t preclude you from purchasing a vehicle because you can always use the seat belt to install a carseat. Sometimes knowing a trick or two, like folding the vehicle seat forward a tad to access the lower anchors, can make things easier. It just shows that you have to take more than leather seats and cup holders into consideration when choosing a new vehicle for your family.

MDX 3rd row tether

3rd row tether anchor in Acura MDX