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Making the Back Seat Safer for Kids

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Today the brilliant and dedicated team from the Center for Injury Prevention and Research at CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) released a new CPS Issue Report “Optimizing the Rear Seat for Children – April 2013” which highlights some of the various ways that vehicle rear seats could be optimized to protect kids too big for “add-on” child restraints. Unfortunately, tweens and young teens (who typically are out of boosters and using just the adult seatbelt) have much higher injury rates than the younger kids who can and do benefit from using a carseat or booster. I’d like to think we’ve made some good progress getting the message out about kids in the 4-8 age group needing an “add-on” CR but clearly something needs to be done to make the occupant restraint systems in the back seat more suitable for tweens and teens. Ideally, all kids should use a booster until they can pass the 5 Step Test  but that means keeping most 9, 10 and some 11 year olds in boosters. Sure, my almost 9 year still uses a booster and he will continue to do so until he passes the 5 Step Test in our vehicles but the reality is that almost none of his 3 grade classmates are still using a booster. I’m not sure why we’re failing so miserably at keeping kids in boosters until they are actually large enough to fit well in the adult seatbelt but all it takes is one quick look around your local elementary school parking lot to come to the conclusion that we are failing. Parents either aren’t getting the message or they are getting the message but ignoring it.

Anyhow, the injury rates according to 2007 data from the Partners for Child Passenger Safety study paint a very clear picture – injuries to kids in motor vehicle crashes increase with age:

4.5 injuries per 1,000 children for 0 to 3 years

7.0 for 4 to 8 years

15.5 for 9 to 12 years

20.6 for 13 to 15 years

“This is due in part to the different ways they are restrained at each age, where they sit and other crash characteristics. In addition, as children age, the vehicle’s rear seat and associated safety features may not be able to offer the optimal protection that younger occupants are provided by add-on restraints.”

I encourage everyone to actually download and read the entire report because there is a wealth of information in there on the subject that goes way beyond a simple blog or a comment shared on facebook. Back seat occupant protection seems to be the final frontier of vehicle safety and let’s be honest – there is a lot of room for improvement there!

Kristy Arbogast from CHOP has a wonderful blog “Putting the Rear Seat First” on the subject here:  http://injury.research.chop.edu/blog/posts/putting-rear-seat-first?utm_source=Child+Passenger+Safety&utm_campaign=5262666229-CPS_Issue_Report_Rear_Seat4_26_2013&utm_medium=email#.UX6H5rWsiSo

 

Motor Vehicle Deaths by Age

According to the CDC leading causes of death reports from the WISQARS database, the total fatalities by age in the “MV Traffic” category from 2001 to 2010 (the most recent decade available) are as follows:

Age 0-12 months:  1,208

Age 1: 1,147

Age 2: 1,201

Age 3: 1,119

Age 4: 1,085

Age 5: 1,075

Age 6: 1,040

Age 7: 982

Age 8: 991

Age 9: 1022

Age 10: 997

There is no information provided about the whether a child restraint was present or not.  If a restraint was present, there is no information about misuse.  We don’t know if alcohol or distracted driving contributed to the fatality.  We really know nothing else about this data, other than the total number of children killed at each age.

Even given the lack of specifics on this raw data, do these numbers surprise you?  Would you have expected toddlers age 1, 2 or 3 to suffer fatal motor vehicle related injuries more frequently than babies under 1 year old, those presumably more likely to have been rear-facing in 2010 and earlier? Would you have expected booster age children age 4 and up to have more fatalities than younger kids that are more likely to be in a 5-point harness?  Or, is a pretty even distribution just what you would have expected?

Discuss!

 

Still Made in North America

Kecia and I toured the great new Dorel technical center, adjacent to where they manufacture many Cosco, Safety 1st and other child restraint products in Columbus, Indiana.  Kudos now to Britax, who opted to keep their main manufacturing facility in Charlotte, moving just across the border from North Carolina to South Carolina.   They are currently moving into their shiny, new digs!  I have seen it from the outside and hope to blog about a tour of the facility in the future :-)

Other manufacturers, like Evenflo, still have major manufacturing plants in the USA as well.  We know some parents prefer products made in North America, Western Europe and certain other countries for a variety of reasons.  Keeping good manufacturing and technical jobs domestic to support local economies is a major one.  Concerns over workers’ conditions, environmental issues and product quality control are other very legitimate concerns about losing manufacturing to Asia and other regions with ultra-cheap labor and minimal government oversight.  Managers of some programs receiving funds from certain federal and state grants may be required to purchase products primarily made in the USA.  For that reason, we are also compiling a list of carseats still made in the USA, including some made in Canada, Mexico and Europe.

CarseatBlog does recommend carseats that are manufactured outside North America.  Location of the corporate headquarters or manufacturing is not usually a factor as to whether we recommend or do not recommend any particular child restraint.  Even though where a product is made does not typically affect our opinion of a carseat, we do try to mention it in our reviews.  That is so those interested in buying the product may have this information, in case it is a factor in their own purchasing decision!

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: