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Weight Limits: The Death of LATCH?

LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren.  It’s the next generation of child safety.

It’s a pair of metal anchors located in the seat bight, plus a top tether anchor located somewhere behind the vehicle seat.  Combined, these anchors were to make installation of carseats much easier than using seatbelts.  With me so far?

Problem is, at least in the USA, we made a lot of concessions to automobile and child restraint manufacturers when the system was implemented.  For example, the anchors are often hard to find or access.  Also, rigid LATCH isn’t required, as it is with ISOFIX in Europe.  Center and third row seating positions may not have anchors at all.  High weight limit seats are not considered.  This last issue has become a big problem, due to the rapid proliferation in carseats with 5-point harnesses now rated above 40 pounds in the USA and *Canada.

The rules, many of which are unwritten for the typical parent, are so absolutely crazy that certified child passenger safety technicians need a 200-page reference manual to help understand it.  The average parent or caregiver? They don’t even know about the rules or manual in the first place!  Thus, misuse happens.  It’s no wonder that parents who do know about it are so confused, they simply choose not to deal with it.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up:  In 2014, new federal standards, subject to petitions of the final rule, will require carseats to have another label.  This label will limit the use of lower anchors to a maximum weight for a child.  This child’s weight limit printed on each carseat, plus the weight of the carseat, must be 65 pounds combined, or less.  Thus, for any child seat that weighs over 25 pounds, it cannot be used with the lower anchors once the child is above 40 pounds (or less).  Clear as mud?

Adding to the confusion, these new federal requirements do not directly affect top tether anchors, the other component of LATCH.  Nonetheless, many automobile manufacturers are still currently limiting top tether anchor use to the same combined 65-pound [child plus carseat] weight, even when a seatbelt is used for installation.  A few still limit use to a 40- or 48-pound child weight.  That means that if you own any of these automobile makes (and you may need that 200-page manual to know which ones!), you should no longer use the top tether above this limit.  Still following me?

Of course, it is the tall and heavy kids that need top tethers the most in order to reduce head excursion, the source of severe head injury risk!  So, this is a major conflict in what we know about crash dynamics and something that could put older kids at risk.  All this leads to the following questions:

Britax Boulevard 70-G3, Pavilion 70-G3 and Advocate 70-G3 Convertible Carseat Recall

Britax is announcing a recall of certain convertible carseats due to a possible choking hazard.  This is not a crash safety issue and does not necessarily require immediate attention unless you have noted an issue with your child chewing on the HUGS chest pads.  This issue affects Boulevard 70-G3, Pavilion 70-G3 and Advocate 70-G3 models made between June 1st, 2012 and August 31st, 2012.

The new design of HUGS pads on some G3 convertible carseats may separate if a child chews on it repeatedly, possibly leading to a choking hazard.  This does not affect previous designs of Britax convertibles.  Parents may continue to use their Britax convertibles with the HUGS pads until replacements are installed, provided that no chewing issue is noted with the HUGS pads.

If chewing or biting on the HUGS rubber pads has been noted, the parent may remove the HUGS pads until replacements arrive.  The owner’s manual advises that the HUGS pads are optional rear-facing, but required forward-facing for improved crash safety.  Britax states that they have tested the G3 models without HUGS pads and they still exceed the necessary standards for forward-facing children, so parents may remove them temporarily, but only until replacements can be installed.  Replacements should begin to ship to registered product owners within a week.

No known injuries have been reported.  Please see attached pdf documents for a complete list of affected model numbers and other information for USA and Canada.

P547900-USA Consumer 577 Notice

P548000-CAN Consumer Notice

Owners may contact Britax Customer Service Department at 1-888-427-4829 if you have questions.

Booster Fit Is Better Than Ever! 2012 IIHS Booster Ratings

Boosters are better than ever at fitting the “gap” kids: those kids ages 4-8 who should be in belt-positioning boosters, but are often taken out of harnessed seats when they outgrow them. Those of us who are in child passenger safety know that children really don’t size out of boosters until ages 10-11, ages that typically shock most parents. That means that children are in belt-positioning booster seats longer than any other type of child restraint.

What are the current restraint recommendations? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.
  • All children 2 years or older, or those younger than 2 years who have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their CSS, should use a forward-facing CSS with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.
  • All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their CSS should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap-and-shoulder seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age.
  • When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap-and-shoulder seatbelts for optimal protection.
  • All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) began testing boosters for fit in 2008 and only 10 boosters rated a “Best Bet.” This year, 15 of 17 belt-positioning booster seats introduced in 2012 earned a “Best Best” rating and overall, there are a total of 47 “Best Bet” boosters. That’s fantastic and means more choices for consumers than ever before. But ultimately, what does that mean for you as a consumer of a safety product? After all, you want the safest product for your most precious cargo.

The IIHS uses a 6 year old dummy to test belt fit in the boosters. Boosters aren’t crash tested in these tests; they’re reviewed only for fit on the 6 year old dummy. How do you know if your booster fits *your* child well? After all, a dummy is stiff and doesn’t move all over the place like a real life child does. The shoulder belt should fall across the middle of the shoulder, slightly closer to the neck than the edge of the shoulder. The lap belt should ride low on the lap, touching the tops of the thighs.

  This picture shows good shoulder belt fit.

  This picture shows good lap belt fit. It’s low, touching the thighs.

  This picture shows poor lap belt fit. It’s resting up on the belly.

Really, while the IIHS ratings are a great help to parents as a starting off point for finding boosters that are most likely to fit in the widest variety of vehicles, only *you* are the best judge of what may work in *your* situation. Certain extreme seat belt geometries, such as when the shoulder belt comes out from behind the child’s shoulder or in front of the child’s body, may mean that a “Good Fit” booster on the IIHS list is a “Best Bet” booster for you.

Shall we get on with the list? Yes! We’ve indicated with a * which “Best Bet” boosters are on our own Recommended Carseats list and as much as we’d love to add all the seats to our recommended list, we simply can’t. Bolded items on the list are new for 2012.

Best Bet

*Britax Frontier 85
*Britax Frontier 85 SICT
*Britax Parkway SGL (highback mode)
*BubbleBum
Chicco KeyFit Strada (highback mode)
*Clek Oobr (highback mode)
Cosco Pronto (highback mode)
Diono Monterey (highback mode)
Diono Radian R100
Diono Radian R120
*Diono Radian RXT
Eddie Bauer Auto Booster (highback mode)
*Evenflo Big Kid Amp
Evenflo Big Kid Amp High Back (backless mode)
Evenflo Big Kid Sport (backless mode)
*Evenflo Maestro
*Evenflo Secure Kid LX/DLX
*Evenflo Symphony 65 e3
Ferrari Dreamway SP (highback mode)
*Graco Argos 70 (highback mode)
Graco Backless TurboBooster
*Graco Nautilus (highback mode)
*Graco TurboBooster (backless mode)
*Graco TurboBooster (highback mode)
Graco TurboBooster COLORZ
Graco TurboBooster Elite (backless mode)
Graco TurboBooster Elite (highback mode)
*Graco TurboBooster Safety Surround (backless mode)
*Graco TurboBooster Safety Surround (highback mode)
Harmony Carpooler
Harmony Cruz Youth Booster
Harmony Dreamtime Booster (backless mode)
Harmony Dreamtime Booster (highback mode)
*Harmony Olympian
Harmony V6 Highback Booster (backless mode)
Harmony V6 Highback Booster (highback mode)
*Harmony Youth Booster Seat
*Kiddy Cruiserfix Pro
Kiddy World Plus
Kids Embrace Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR (highback mode)
Recaro ProBOOSTER
*Recaro ProSPORT
*Recaro Vivo
Safety 1st Boost Air Protect (highback mode)
Safety 1st S1 Rumi Air/Essential Air
The First Years Pathway B570

Good Bets

Britax Parkway SG (highback mode)
Combi Kobuk Air-Thru (backless mode)
Combi Kobuk Air-Thru(highback mode)
Evenflo Symphony 65
Maxi-Cosi Rodi (highback mode)

Check Fit

Britax Parkway SG (backless mode)
Britax Parkway SGL (backless mode)
Chicco KeyFit Strada (backless mode)
Clek Olli
Clek Oobr (backless mode)
Clek Ozzi
Cosco Ambassador
Cosco Highback Booster
Cosco Pronto (backless mode)
Cosco Top Side
Diono/Sunshine Kids Monterey (backless mode)
Diono/Sunshine Kids Santa Fe
Eddie Bauer Auto Booster (backless mode)
Evenflo Big Kid Amp (highback mode)
Evenflo Big Kid LX (backless mode)
Evenflo Big Kid LX (highback mode)
Evenflo Big Kid No Back Booster
Evenflo Big Kid Sport (highback mode)
Ferrari Dreamway SP (backless mode)
Ferrari Ola
Graco Argos 70 (backless mode)
Graco Nautilus  (backless mode)
Graco Nautilus Elite (backless mode)
Graco Nautilus Elite (highback mode)
Graco Smart Seat
Maxi-Cosi Rodi (backless mode)
Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR (backless mode)
Safety 1st Boost Air Protect (backless mode)
Safety 1st Go Hybrid
Safety 1st Summit
Safety 1st Vantage
Safety 1st Ventura
The First Years Compass B505
The First Years Compass B530
The First Years Compass B540
Volvo Booster (backless mode)
Volvo Booster (highback mode)

Not Recommended

Safety 1st All-in-One
Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite

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The 2012 update is in the most recent IIHS Status Report. You’ll want to stay close to CarseatBlog.com because you know that good things happen for our readers when good news is released ;).

CarseatBlog’s Updated List of Recommended Carseats!

It’s been a while 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 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 child safety seats pass the same tests, they are all safe, blah, blah, blah.  In their 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, their vehicle and is easiest for them to use correctly.  Nothing wrong with that.

Problem is, once you’ve installed even a dozen different seats, you quickly learn that there are real differences.  Some child restraints do tend to fit better in general, while some are really easier to use in general.  Even so, back in the CPS dark ages, rogue technicians who discussed the reality of different child seats were routinely burned at the stake! This very topic about the best or safest car seats even gave our dearly departed Marvin his career as a blogger!

Thankfully, those days of CPS witch hunts are long gone.  The ”no recommendations” concept came to an end a few years back when the mighty NHTSA started recommending seats themselves.  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 own child and vehicle than the recommendations of an experienced technician!  Enter another respected institution, the IIHS.  A few years back they began rating boosters based on fit to a standardized dummy.  Again, no crash testing whatsoever.  Again, no guarantees that the results apply to any particular child in any specific vehicle.

So, who is CarseatBlog to go recommending specific child seats?  Sure, Heather and Kecia are very experienced certified Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructors.  And Darren has been a certified technician for more than a decade and has like a zillion websites on the topic.  We’ve all been involved with local Safe Kids organizations, SafetyBeltSafe USA and other groups.  And we like to think that we’ve developed a great reputation in the professional CPS community. Most importantly, though, we’re just parents who have used a lot of different car seats.  Like many 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.

So, please take our carseat 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 to make an opinion at all.  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 recommendations just as valid as our own!

Get Fired Up

Picture this: In an attempt to shift the blame in deaths caused by house fires, Big Tobacco enlists firefighters and shoddy science to sway the public and politicians to help create fire-retardancy standards. Then the chemical industry sets up and funds a trade group that pays “concerned professionals” and “ordinary people” to champion its efforts under the guise of a “citizens organization.” One of the people it pays includes a doctor, the head of the American Burn Association, who testifies in front of state legislatures about babies killed due to a lack of fire retardants…only those babies don’t exist. To top it off, the flame retardants don’t work as promised anyway, and the government is unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

That’s not the stuff of a paranoid conspiracy theory or a John Grisham novel. It’s from an investigative series by the Chicago Tribune that examines the origin and future of flame-retardancy standards in America.

I’ll briefly summarize the report here, but read it yourself for the full details. It’s an engrossing—and largely appalling—read.

Several decades ago, the tobacco industry was facing a public relations nightmare—not due to cancer deaths, but due to people dying in house fires caused by cigarettes. Rather than taking the heat or creating safer cigarettes, the industry decided to shift the blame to the furnishings that were catching on fire.

Obviously, the tobacco companies wouldn’t have much credibility spreading the idea that it was the furniture’s fault, so the industry decided to woo firefighters and fire safety organizations to their cause through grants and perks. A former tobacco industry executive came up with the idea of creating a firefighting organization to help their efforts. Thus, the National Association of State Fire Marshals was born.

It’s not quite clear to what extent the fire marshals realized they were pawns in a game to get people to support adding fire-resistant chemicals to furniture. Some of them thought the head of their association was a volunteer, not aware that he was being paid by tobacco companies. Regardless, the association worked to promote fire-retardant furniture (and maybe even genuinely believed in the cause) even as other firefighters expressed concerns about effectiveness and the more-toxic smoke produced when these products burn.

Oh, and that tobacco executive? He later went on to serve as a lobbyist for the chemical industry.

But hey, at least we’re protected, right?

Maybe not. Government studies have found no meaningful difference between household items treated with chemicals and those without. In addition, both produced a similar amount of smoke, which (as opposed to being engulfed in flames) is what usually causes deaths in fires.