Safety Archive

Collapsing Vehicle Seat Backs: What Can You Do?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusmail

nhtsa collapseIf you’ve paid attention to the news during the past year or two, you’ve probably come across some stories about front vehicle seats collapsing in crashes. In some cases, drivers and backseat passengers—including children—have been killed. Clearly, this is a potentially important safety matter, and one that an outlet like CarseatBlog should tackle, which we haven’t done until now.

It’s not that we haven’t noticed; it’s that usually when a subject like this comes up, there’s some kind of relatively easy way to avoid the problem. This one, like the Takata Airbag issue, is tough to write about because so much is out of a consumer’s power to avoid it. But we’ll try.

Basically, this is an issue of seat strength. In some rear-end crashes, especially high-speed ones, front vehicle seats have been found to collapse backwards. This can cause injuries to the front seat occupant, from “simple” whiplash to more extreme injuries like paralysis or death when the occupant ramps upward and hits the back seat or another part of the car. It’s also possible for people to be ejected backwards.

Clearly, a front seat collapsing also becomes a hazard for anyone riding behind that seat. There have been fatalities due to the front seat collapsing onto a rear passenger.

Because of reporting procedures, it’s hard to get an exact number on the amount of fatalities caused by collapsing seat backs. One expert interviewed by CBS news says that seat backs collapse (though not necessarily fatally) every day. That same report says that at the time of the story, nine children were known to have died due to collapsing seat backs. In another CBS report, a spokesman for The Center for Auto Safety, a consumer protection organization, says that 50 children a year are killed that way. Clearly there is a huge discrepancy between 50 per year and nine in an unknown timeframe, and I don’t know if anyone has definitive answers.

NHTSAThe National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and vehicle manufacturers have been aware of this problem for decades. CBS’s 60 Minutes first tackled the issue back in 1992. According to one of the recent CBS reports, back in 1992 a man named Paul Sheridan was in charge of a minivan safety team at Chrysler. He knew about the problem of seats collapsing and tried to take steps to research and correct it, but Chrysler instead dismantled his team and withheld evidence. At the time (remember, this is 1992) NHTSA said it would look into the issue. Nearly 25 years later, nothing has changed.

NHTSA and manufacturers claim that current seat backs meet or exceed the federal standard (FMVSS 207) for seat strength, and that’s probably true. The problem is that the standard was established in 1967 and has not been updated since then. Also, the test is static not dynamic (meaning that seats are exposed to a long pull of increasing resistance rather than a sudden change of force, like what happens in a real-life crash).

It’s not FMVSS 207 that the seats are failing. Where they’re found failing (other than in real life) is in FMVSS 301, which tests fuel system integrity. According to this article (admittedly from a law firm that specializes in crash lawsuits) in the crash tests for FMVSS 301, “almost all bucket seatbacks and split bench seatbacks fail and strike the rear seats.”

I was unable to access the source they used, but I did find a report submitted to NHTSA from SAFE Laboratories, an independent research and crash testing facility. That report showed of 21 tests, nearly all resulted in the seats collapsing. It said, “Although all of the above vehicles incorporated FVMSS 207 compliant seats, when loaded dynamically in a rear impact these seats consistently failed to prevent occupant excursion into the rear compartment and potentially injurious impacts with rear structures or rear seated occupants.”

nhtsa collapse 2How has NHTSA responded to the increased media attention surrounding seat failures? Essentially by saying it’s not a problem. They say there’s not enough data to demonstrate a real-world benefit to changing the standard for seat strength.

As for vehicle manufacturers, strengthening the seat backs would cost money. How much? Well, in a 1996 deposition, a General Motors engineer said the cost to strengthen the seat backs would be about a dollar.

The Warner family, interviewed by CBS, lost their toddler in a crash when the father’s seat back collapsed on her. That father said he imagines almost anyone would be willing to pay another $50 for their vehicle if it meant their seats wouldn’t collapse on their children.

The study I referenced above from SAFE Laboratories showed that adding a second recliner to seats limited how much the seats would pivot in a crash, thereby making them more stable. I’m not sure if that’s the fix the GM engineer referred to, but there are likely many possible solutions.

What You Can Do

There’s no surefire solution to this one, but here are some things that might help.

Keep children rear-facing as long as possible

Rear-facing is safer overall, and the vast majority of crashes are frontal collisions (vs. the rear collisions where the seat backs are collapsing). It’s hard to say how much of a difference it would make for a child to be rear-facing vs. forward-facing if a seat back collapses on them, but it’s possible that a rear-facing child restraint might offer some additional protection if it’s able to stop the front seat back or keep tClek Fllo Addie RFhe child’s body contained within the shell. It’s also possible that the child restraint wouldn’t be strong enough to make a difference, but at least there’s that possibility.

(On that note, I have seen at least one instance where a forward-facing child was killed due to a known/suspected seat back collapse, and the immediate response of some safety advocates was that it wouldn’t have happened if the child had been rear-facing. First of all, we have no way of knowing whether that’s true. Second, that places blame where it doesn’t belong. The child might have been saved by a rear-facing seat, but the child almost definitely would have been saved if the front seat hadn’t collapsed in the first place.)

Keep children in the back seat

Some people are going to panic and think “The back seat is too dangerous now! Better move the kids to the front!” I understand the sentiment, but please don’t do that. The back seat is still the safest place for children. The front seat comes with its own dangers, for example airbags designed for adults (or ones that could malfunction) potentially hurting children. The vast majority of car crashes are frontal collisions, putting those front seat passengers closer to the point of impact. Also, if a child were to be sitting in the front seat and that seat collapses, the child is still likely to be injured.

Put children behind unoccupied seats

I sort of hesitate to recommend something that’s not an “official” recommendation from the CPST curriculum, but in this case I think it makes sense, when practical. In March, the Center for Auto Safety petitioned NHTSA to warn parents not to seat their children behind occupied front seats. (As far as I know, NHTSA has not yet responded and probably won’t. After all, if the agency implements that recommendation, it would essentially be admitting that collapsing seats are enough of a problem to warrant a warning. If it’s serious enough to need a warning, it’s serious enough to need fixing, which NHTSA has said isn’t the case.)

If you’re concerned, though, and if you have the room, it’s a logical solution to place children in seating positions where there isn’t an occupant in front of them. Of course, unless you have only one child (and sometimes not even then), that’s not always possible or practical.

I don’t want to see this become an official recommendation because it’s one that’s just too hard for most people to follow. But when the question of “Which side is safer: the driver’s side or passenger side?” comes up, maybe it can help to take the presence of front passengers into consideration.

Select certain brands when buying a new car

According to this CBS report, their experts state that BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo have stronger seats than their competitors. They don’t provide information to back up or explain those claims, so possibly take that with a grain of salt.

Keep calm

I know it’s a scary thought. No one wants to think about their child being killed by a collapsing seat, especially when there are already so many other dangers out there, and especially when there’s often no way to avoid a child sitting behind an occupied seat. Remember that these seat failures are occurring in rear-impact crashes. Rear-impacts are usually very low speed and account for far fewer fatalities than front- and side-impact crashes. The FMVSS 301 testing occurs at 50 mph, far faster than the typical fender-bender in heavy traffic. Although this does seem to be a serious issue that needs action, the odds of a child dying from a seat collapsing are very, very low.

Take action

If you’re concerned about this, take action. Write to your elected representatives and to NHTSA and push for a change in the standard. Write to your vehicle manufacturer to express your concern and demand that they increase the strength of their seat backs. Manufacturers know that money talks—make them listen.

Mythbusters: It is safe to place your infant seat on the top portion of a shopping cart

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusmail

In this Mythbusters article I’m going to touch on something that’s been discussed before. It may be somewhat of a rerun but given the incredibly common practice I think it’s due time.

Myth – It is safe to place your infant seat on the top portion of a shopping cart, especially when it clicks into place.

Car-Seat-on-top-of-shopping-cartMany people view this as truth because, well, everyone does it. Surely if it is that awful and dangerous then you wouldn’t see every infant in the store chilling in their car seat on the cart every time you go to Target, right? Plus it clicks in! It’s meant to be placed there!

This next paragraph may be a total spoiler but I suspect you already know the answer anyway since I’m running a blog post on it.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC.gov), between 2008 and 2012 there were approximately 107,300 shopping cart related injuries treated in kids under  the age of 5. Of these cases, 85% were head/facial injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics shows that, between 2003 and 2007, approximately 43,562 infants were treated in emergency rooms for being injured while in a car seat that was not in use in a vehicle. 84.3% were head injuries, the majority of them being due to either the infant falling out of the car seat or the car seat falling from an elevated surface.

shoppingcart3

I know the following scenarios are disturbing to imagine, but I feel like they will illustrate how easy this can happen to anyone.

Case 1: You just wrapped up grocery shopping. Your baby is snoozing happily in his infant seat on the cart.  You’re pushing the cart through the parking lot to your car and you cruise over a speed bump. The infant seat that clicked perfectly into that spot on the cart 30 minutes earlier pops off the cart and topples to the ground. Your sweet baby slams head first onto the pavement from 4 feet up in the air, with the additional weight of the car seat on top of him.

Case 2: You’re shopping at Target with your newborn and your crazy toddler. You have your baby in his car seat on the cart but you ALWAYS have one hand on him. Except when your toddler knocks off some containers of baby puffs from the shelf on the floor. You bend over for just a second to pick them up. Your toddler wants to kiss your baby’s feet and pulls up on the cart handle to reach. The cart tips over and the baby goes face first onto the concrete floor, cart on top of him, not to mention the crush your toddler is going to get too.

Sadly, I didn’t make those up.

If you want to spare yourself the nightmare, please use the car seat IN THE CAR. Not outside of it. I know it’s handy when they’re napping, but it’s just so easy to temporarily sit them on a counter, a table, or a shopping cart. Yes they make little docks on shopping carts designed for infant seats, but shopping carts tip so unbelievably easy that it’s just not worth the risk. If you need to place a car seat in a shopping cart then place it in the big part of the cart. I know that defeats the purpose of the cart, but that’s really the only solution here.

Obviously this myth is busted. Break the cycle and share with those you know. Your kid is going to have plenty of opportunities to get hurt…here’s one you can avoid.

 

Update: Kiddy World Plus Recall

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusmail

Kiddy World PlusBack in May we brought you news that Kiddy World Plus car seats were being recalled because of a faulty buckle. At the time, there was no fix or information about what consumers should do. Kiddy has now issued directions for owners of these seats.

Recall details: On the Kiddy World Plus seats, the buckle tongue on the shield may not fully engage, giving a false impression that the seat is securely fastened. This recall applies to all Kiddy World Plus seats sold in the United States.

Remedy: Owners should stop using their seats and return them for a refund of the purchase price. Owners should contact Kiddy customer service at 1-855-KIDDY (1-855-925-4339) for a free shipping label. Upon receipt of the seat, Kiddy will issue a refund.

Kiddy’s website currently states that this remedy applies to seats manufactured between February 1, 2012 and May 1, 2013. However, we have confirmed that this recall and remedy applies to all manufacture dates of the Kiddy World Plus. Anyone who owns this seat should contact Kiddy for instructions on how to return their seats.

The full text from Kiddy’s website reads as follows:

Dear Kiddy Consumer,

Kiddy USA, Inc. has determined that certain Kiddy World Plus car seats do not meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 213. Kiddy is conducting a recall of these seats. The buckle tongue on the car seats included in this recall may not fully engage and could give the user the false impression that the buckle is fully latched when it is not. The car seats involved in this recall are a combination forward facing child restraint converting to a high back booster and were produced between February 1, 2012 and May 1, 2013.

Description of the Noncompliance

The buckle tongue on the car seats included in this recall may not fully engage and could give the user the false impression that the buckle is fully latched when it is not.

Remedy for the Noncompliance

Kiddy will reimburse owners the full purchase price of the car seat. Do not return the product to a retailer. Owners should contact Kiddy at 1-855-92-KIDDYand speak with a Customer Service Representative. Kiddy will send owners a free shipping label to use to return the complete car seat to Kiddy. Upon receipt, Kiddy will send the owner reimbursement for the purchase price of the car seat.

If you are having difficulty getting your car seat remedied within a reasonable amount of time, you may write to the following address:

Administrator

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

1200 New Jersey Ave, S.E.

Washington, D.C. 20590

Or you may call the toll free Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 or (TTY: 1-800-424-9153)

Or visit www.safercar.gov and search Recall ID: 16C-005

Kiddy is committed to your child’s full safety. We apologize for any inconvenience this matter may have caused.

Sincerely,

Kiddy USA

 

Proper Transport of the Non-Critical Pediatric Patient in an Ambulance (aka how to properly install a carseat on a stretcher/cot)

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusmail

On this warm, sunny, spring day – parents were obviously busy doing something other than coming to our check event. That left us techs with a little free time. At one point, some of the fabulous volunteers from the local ambulance corp showed up and the conversation quickly turned to transporting babies and young children in ambulances. I think I shocked a few of the local techs when I admitted that I had never actually installed a carseat on an ambulance cot (What? Something involving carseats that Kecia has never done??? Alert the presses! Lol.) Yes, I understand how it’s supposed to be done. I’ve read the research papers and I’ve seen several presentations on the subject at various CPS conferences over the years but I had never actually done it myself. Well, wouldn’t you know it – a short time later, an ambulance pulls up. Yes, boys and girls – it’s play time! 😀

It was actually a fairly simple install on this nice, new Stryker cot with this particular convertible (original model Cosco Scenera).  For the record, the only type of conventional carseat that should ever be installed on an ambulance stretcher/cot is a convertible. You need to be able to secure the carseat on the cot using two different beltpaths and this is only possible if the carseat has separate beltpaths for the rear-facing and forward-facing positions. Obviously, this setup is only going to work if the child actually fits in the convertible (and that will vary depending on the child and the specific convertible model being used) and if the child can tolerate being transported in the semi-upright position.

First we reclined the carseat into the position meant for a rear-facing installation. Then they showed me how to raise the head of the cot until we had it flush against the back of the convertible. Next we routed the straps nearest the rear-facing beltpath through that beltpath and routed the straps nearest the forward-facing beltpath through that beltpath. They helped me tighten everything up and Voila! Then we strapped in our “non-critical pediatric patient” for good measure (and for the photo op)! Finally, the guys showed me how to load this particular stretcher into the ambulance and secure it. I have to say, I was really impressed with this particular Stryker Powered Ambulance Cot. The hydraulic system was sweeet!

     

On this particular day, this exercise was all about learning something new in a relaxed and friendly environment. However, in reality, pediatric transport in an ambulance can range from “as safe as possible under difficult circumstances” to “downright scary for no good reason”. Why does it vary so much? Because currently there are no federal guidelines for  pediatric transport in an ambulance. Therefore,  EMS services are free to transport patients in any way they deem appropriate. Personally, I wouldn’t allow my kids to be transported to the hospital in an ambulance unless they really needed to be attended to by a medic on the way there. Unconscious? Not breathing? Massive head trauma? Get him into the ambulance fast and I’m not going to care or worry about how he’s restrained. Broken foot? Get in the car and I’m driving you to the hospital myself.

For more information on the subject see “Crash Protection for Children in Ambulances”: http://www.carseat.org/Resources/Bull_Ambulance.pdf