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IIHS 2013 Booster Seat Ratings – Making Sense of the Best Bets, Check Fit & Not Recommended Ratings

lap and shoulder belt fitYou will see it all over the news today and tomorrow. It will be on national morning shows, local news broadcasts, in newspapers and online. There will be a lot of good information, but there will also be the usual misinformation. Is your child as safe as possible just because you bought a booster that has a 2013 IIHS ”Best Bet” rating? Should you panic if you have one that is rated “Check Fit”? Does that mean it’s dangerous or unsafe?

Here at CarseatBlog, our job is to help guide you through the wonderful but overwhelming world of child occupant protection. Here you’ll get info and straight answers from experts in the field who are also parents, just like you. We’ve been around this block a few times already so allow us to help you sort through the mountains of information.

Baby Trend Handle News

Baby Trend InertiaBaby Trend has released probably the best news ever! All Baby Trend infant seat handles may now be left in the up position in the vehicle. This is particularly good news for parents who own small cars and purchased Baby Trend infant seats, only to find out afterward that the handle was to be left in the down position while traveling in the vehicle. Baby Trend infant seats have the trademark triangular-shaped handle that, while comfortable to carry, take up a lot of space when rotated back.

As always, CarseatBlog and Baby Trend caution against hanging toys off the handle when it’s in the up position. Despite being crash tested in the up position now, Baby Trend does still recommend  keeping the handle back if you have enough space to do so in your vehicle. But now you can feel secure knowing that the handle can stay safely up.

Safe Kids Finds Shocking Behaviors

cps_infographic_2013_for_webWe are in the midst of CPS Week 2013 culminating on Saturday with Seat Check Saturday. To celebrate, because really, we CPS techs like to party believe it or not ;) , Safe Kids Worldwide released the results of a study with some very shocking findings.

We know that vehicle crashes are leading killers of kids; for kids 5 and older, it’s the leading cause of death (see graphs pulled from the WISQARS national database on injury-related data). After reading the study released by Safe Kids Worldwide, we now understand a little bit more why they may be dying in the numbers we’re seeing and it’s truly shocking. We should be ashamed.

2010 Unintentional Deaths 1-4  2010 Unintentional Deaths 5-9  2010 Unintentional Deaths 10-14

1002 parents and caregivers of children aged 10 and under were surveyed online as to their buckling practices and the results were disappointing. Twenty-four percent of parents (for brevity, I’m leaving off the word “caregiver,” but they’re included as well) have at one time or another not restrained their children. There weren’t a lot of differences in gender (no blaming the hubby here!), but Ed level chartthere was an interesting difference in education level. It turns out that those with the most education, such as a graduate degree, were more likely to say it was acceptable for a child to ride unrestrained than parents with a high school or college-level education. What the? Maybe now the whole pediatrician giving out bad advice thing is starting to make sense.

Along with rise in education, as income rises, so does the apparent acceptability for not restraining children. The excuses range from “I’m not driving far” to “rewarding the child” to child “keeps climbing out.” Perhaps when child passenger safety technicians Income chartcomment on parents’ carseat practices, we are actually commenting on their parenting abilities because like it or not, “rewarding a child” and not buckling a child because they “keep climbing out” is pretty poor parenting. In the past, I’ve always sworn up and down that I’m not commenting on a parent’s child-rearing abilities when I tell them that they aren’t tightening the harness enough, but damn, if you’re not buckling Billy because he got an A on his spelling test, I do have to question your parenting skills. Billy may not live to see his next spelling test because of that reward. Give him a hug instead, which he’ll appreciate a lot better.

For kids under age 12 who were killed in vehicle crashes in 2011, fully 1/3 were unrestrained. These are preventable deaths. Certainly there are crashes so severe that they are unsurvivable, but let’s at least give these kids a fighting chance. As children grow older, they are more likely to be unrestrained. Parents understand that babies need to be restrained properly, but that’s not carrying over to older children. Perhaps it’s the ease of use of infant seats that can be buckled in the house vs. in the vehicle, perhaps it’s the fast pace of American life where we spend so much time running from one activity to another with a cell phone plastered to our ears (let’s not get started on *that* one, shall we?), perhaps it’s thinking that older children should be able to buckle themselves when they really can’t due to dexterity or maturity issues—whatever it is, we should take the time to always ALWAYS buckle everyone in the vehicle, even if driving from one store to another in the same parking lot. It only takes a minor crash to cause a giant catastrophe that can change your life forever.

Unrestrained fatalities chart

To make sure that your carseat or belt-positioning booster seat is being used properly, please take advantage of Seat Check Saturday this Saturday, September 21. Because it’s a special day, there should be more events planned than usual, so it should be easier to find one in your area. Nationally, it’s said that 80% of carseats are installed or used incorrectly, but I know that in my city, that number is 96%. That’s scary! So take advantage of FREE events! We’re here to help you install and use your carseats—we want to help and we want to make sure that everyone in your vehicle is safe. It’s what we do.

NHTSA_Popsicle_300x250_bu

Thank you to Safe Kids Worldwide for permission to use charts and graphics!

CarseatBlog’s Recommended Carseats List – 2013 Update!

The-Best-Ribbon

It’s been 12 months since we last updated our list of recommended child restraints. Some models have been updated, some discontinued and many new products have been introduced. A few weeks ago we started the process of revising and updating the entire list and after much thought and discussion we arrived at a consensus. Behold our Updated 2013 List of Recommended Carseats!

We acknowledge that many certified child passenger safety technicians have had it ingrained upon them that they are supposed to act completely neutral toward child restraints. All current seats pass the same FMVSS 213 testing, they are all safe when used correctly, etc., etc. In the class to become certified, most techs were told never to tell a parent that one child seat or brand is better than any other. Instead, technicians are instructed to tell parents that the best seat is the one that fits their child, installs well in their vehicle and is easiest for them to use correctly. Nothing wrong with that.

However, the reality is that once you’ve installed even a dozen different seats, you quickly learn that there are real differences. Some child restraints do tend to install better in general, while some really are easier to use in general. Features like lock-offs for seatbelt installations and premium push-on lower LATCH connectors do make a difference in the vast majority of installations but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every seat that lacks those features is a bust or not worthy of your consideration.

Several years ago, the mighty NHTSA started recommending seats. They didn’t make these recommendations based upon crash testing. No, they were made upon a subjective determination of factors relating to ease-of-use. Ironically, these factors were no more likely to apply to someone’s child and vehicle than the recommendations of an experienced technician! Enter another respected institution, the IIHS. A few years back they began rating booster seats based on fit to a standardized 6 year old dummy. Again, no crash testing whatsoever. Again, no guarantees that the results would apply to your child in your vehicle.

So, who is CarseatBlog to go recommending specific child seats? Well, Heather and Kecia are very experienced Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructors. Darren has been a certified technician for over a dozen years and has like a zillion websites on the topic. Our newest blog writers, Jennie (an experienced CPS Technician) and Alicia (nurse and former tech), are moms with younger kids who can actually use the infant seats and convertible seats that our own kids have long outgrown. We also like to think that we’ve earned a respectable reputation in the child passenger safety community of manufacturers, agencies and advocates. Most importantly, though, we’re just parents who have used a lot of different car seats. Collectively, we have 12 kids ranging in age from newborn to 16. We’ve been through every stage, survived every transition, and personally used an astonishing number of different carseats and boosters. Like many other products we use daily, we know which ones we tend to like in general, which ones we’d use without reservation for our own kids and which ones we are comfortable recommending to CarseatBlog readers and visitors.

With all that said, please take our recommendations with a grain of salt. They are merely opinions, after all. And while we did thoughtfully consider the pros and cons of each seat and combine that with our personal experiences with the product – there’s no crash testing involved. Some seats were omitted because we opted to include a similar model from the same manufacturer. For others, we simply didn’t have enough experience with the product yet to form an opinion. There are a number of products that we don’t mention, if only because a list of every seat we like would be too inclusive, so products that we don’t include may still be worth your consideration! Conversely, some seats we do list may just not work well for you, your child or your vehicle. We’re not saying these are the best or safest choices in child car seats, we’re just saying they’re models we think you should consider. If nothing else, it’s a good place to start when you are carseat or booster shopping!

Please feel free to leave a comment if you think one of our recommendations is rubbish or if you know of a product that you feel deserves a mention! Unlike some other organizations that think their word is the final one, we know our readers have experiences and opinions just as valid as our own!

The Tether Paradox

photoChildren’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the leading institutes on children’s safety issues, recently published a blog post, Over the Top- The case for the tether, about the importance of top tethers. CHOP conducted a study that found, not surprisingly, that top tethers are pretty darn important things.

We already know that tethers reduce head excursion in properly installed seats. This study examined how top tethers affect incorrectly installed seats, too. The results showed that, combined with a loose seatbelt installation, top tethers still reduced head excursion. When combined with a belt misrouted through the wrong beltpath, top tethers reduced forward rotation of the car seat.

Obviously, a properly installed seat is ideal, but with more than 80% of seats installed incorrectly, maybe it’s good to have a “second line of defense,” as CHOP put it.

NextFit tethered   Britax Pavilion tethered in Ford Freestar  top-tether-anchor- ceiling

The problem we face, though, is that tethers are no longer the easy answer they once were. Changes in LATCH requirements are leading many vehicle manufacturers to change their LATCH limits, and some are including top tethers in those limits. That means that in some vehicles, you must discontinue top tether use once a child reaches 40 pounds. Other vehicles have higher limits or none at all for top tethers, but this information often isn’t available to consumers, and manufacturers themselves often seem unsure of the answer.

SafeKids, the certifying body of American CPSTs, has made things “easy” by stating that we must not use top tethers beyond 40 pounds unless otherwise allowed by the manufacturer. Gone are the days of telling parents to use top tethers whenever anchors are available.

I realize that LATCH is confusing. The aim of new regulations is to make things easier, but easy isn’t always better. Top tether use shouldn’t be limited in order to make things uniform or to protect manufacturers from theoretical liability. Given what we know of the benefits of top tether use, it should be limited only if there are known disadvantages, and so far no one has come forward with those.