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Safety Archive

Incorrect Booster Use: A True Safety Hazard

A quick show of hands–who thinks it’s easier to buckle a kid into a booster than it is to buckle a kid into a harnessed car seat?  I think many parents think it’s easier to buckle a child into a booster and that’s why we see the early transition into boosters from harnessed seats.  There are other factors as well for moving a child into a booster seat: it’s less a “baby” seat, the child has outgrown a small/short harnessed seat, the parent is only willing to follow minimum legal safety requirements, it’s easier to move from vehicle to vehicle, the child is more likely able to buckle himself into the seat, there’s less chance for user error.  Or is there?

Checking your carseat installation

Is your carseat installed properly?  Many parents and caregivers don’t know what constitutes a proper installation or the right way to check to make sure the carseat is installed properly.  On the flip side, some CPS technicians wonder if it’s possible to install a carseat too tightly?  And what about belt tightening devices like the Mighty-Tite?  Are these devices necessary and are they safe to use?   

Let’s start with what constitutes a good or acceptable installation.  If you can get the child restraint (CR) installed so that there is less than 1″ of side-to-side and front-to-back movement at the belt path, then the seat is properly installed.   The belt path is the part of the CR or base where the seatbelt or the lower LATCH anchor attachment belt is threaded through.  That’s the area that you want to tug on to check for movement.  Check for movement before you attach and tighten the tether strap if this applies to your situation.   

Use a reasonable amount of force to check for tightness.  You want to give it a good tug at the belt path to check for movement (especially if you’re installing a heavy seat) but you don’t want to push or pull so hard that you’re forcing the seat to move.            

What about belt tightening devices?  If it’s a feature on your seat (such as lower LATCH attachments with a built-in ratcheting device a la Evenflo Symphony or SafeGuard Child Seat) then it’s fine – obviously.  However, separate ratcheting devices such as the Mighty-Tite are unnecessary, prohibited by the vast majority of CR manufacturers, may void the CR’s warranty and may actually damage the vehicle’s seatbelt.  

Here’s the bottom line – install the seat (or base) as tightly as you can but don’t use a mechanical device unless it’s a feature of your CR.  As long as you’re just using compression, leverage and your bare hands to install the CR then it isn’t really possible to exert so much pressure that you compromise the seatbelt.  If you can get the CR installed so that it doesn’t move at all when you check for tightness – that’s great.  But don’t feel like you have to kill yourself trying to get it in rock-solid if you’re struggling just to get it within the 1″.  As long as you can get the seat tight to the point where it moves less than 1″, that’s fine. 

Of course, some CRs are just legitimately incompatible with certain seating positions and no matter what you try – you’re just not going to be able to get it to move less than 1″.  I hate these situations and they’re increasingly less common but it still happens.  In these cases you can try a different seating position within the vehicle (if that’s possible) and if that doesn’t work, then the only options are either finding a different CR that does work or getting a different vehicle.         

To be honest, most of the time what may initially seem like an “incompatability”, isn’t really.  If you know a few tricks, it’s usually possible to get the seat installed properly.  CPS Technicians learn over time what methods work best in different situations and will pass these tips onto parents.  Sometimes, the simplest adjustment can make a huge difference in the installation. 

Stay tuned for our new blog series “Tricks of the Trade” where we’ll be covering various tips and tricks that may help to simplify the carseat installation process.  We can’t guarantee that these tips will help everyone in every every situation but if it makes one person’s life a little easier, and one kid a little safer then it will be worth the effort.

Euro NCAP – leaving us in the dust (Part II)

Yesterday, in part I of this blog, we covered the 3 specific crash tests that are performed on European vehicles in their New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) – frontal offset, side impact, and side impact pole test.  Today, we’re going to dig a little deeper and examine the child occupant components of the Euro NCAP.  

Learning how other parts of the world are tackling the complex issues of child occupant protection can help give us some perspective on the shortcomings of our own NCAP program.  And, possibly, give us some ideas on how to move our program forward.  For more details on the US NCAP program check out our previous “Responding to the Tribune Article” blog.       

From the Euro NCAP website:

Euro NCAP has carried out a child occupant safety assessment since its very first test in 1997 to ensure that manufacturers take responsibility for the children traveling in their vehicles. In November 2003, Euro NCAP introduced a child occupant protection rating to provide clearer information for consumers about the results of these tests. As part of this assessment, Euro NCAP uses 18 month old and 3 year old sized dummies in the frontal and side impact tests. As well as studying the results from the impact tests, Euro NCAP verifies the clarity of instructions and seat installation in the vehicle to ensure that the child seat can be fitted safely and securely.  

Euro NCAP: Leaving us in the dust (Part I)

We spent all of last week trying to make some sense out of the issues relating to the Tribune article.  What happened?  Are we doing enough to ensure that our kids are safe?  Do we need more testing?  If so, how should we implement new tests and define testing parameters?  How would CR manufacturers comply with new regulations or supplemental tests?  Would new CR designs make seats harder to use properly and increase their prices substantially?   

I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers.  However, this problem of how best to protect occupants of all ages and sizes in motor vehicles isn’t just a problem for America – it’s a global issue.  Child restraints, laws, vehicle features and occupant restraint systems may vary from country to country but the same laws of physics apply to all of us.  Therefore, it makes sense to look at other parts of the world to see how they’re tackling these complex issues.   

After a little research – I’m sad to report that many other parts of the world are kicking our butts with their NCAP testing.  Europe, Japan and Australia all have superior NCAP programs.  I didn’t thoroughly research the Japanese or Australian programs but I did research the European NCAP and our own program is so many years behind that it’s embarrassing.  

Our vehicle testing regimen remains virtually the same now as it was when it began – in 1978.  The only major addition has been a wimpy, side-impact test that they added in 1996.  Honestly, if it wasn’t for the IIHS picking up the slack – we’d still be in the dark ages.   

Let’s take a closer look at the Euro NCAP program…. 

Infant Seats and Crash Testing: What Do We Know?

Infant seats detaching from their base are nothing new.  This issue has come up a number of times in the 10 years I’ve been involved in child passenger safety.  Testing seats with different methods is not a new thing, either.  This new research by the NHTSA put child seats in actual vehicles (rather than a test sled), during a frontal crash test.  Keep in mind that the vehicle crash test itself isn’t new, it basically the same as those that have been done for about 30 years in the NCAP program.  The result?  Some infant seats failed in a major way.  Consumer Reports made a big blunder over a year ago with an infant seat test.  Their report had a number of flaws, but the largest one was a lack of oversight that led to a test that simulated a much, much higher speed than intended.  Ironically, part of their mistake was because they didn’t consider that putting a child seat in a real vehicle allows the vehicle to absorb some of the crash energy.  This must be considered when you simulate a real crash on a sled.  The result?  Some infant seats failed in a major way.

Anyway, there’s still a lot we don’t know about these tests and the results.  It’s both premature and a little unfair to speculate on why some infant seats failed, on whether or not the new NHTSA research test was fair or even on the actual risks posed to infants in these particular seats.

There are a couple things we do know for certain, though.