Safety Archive

LATCH to 80 Pounds: Progress or Confusion?

Sunshine Kids Radian XT SLOver a year ago we asked, “What Would You Do?”  Using LATCH beyond 40 pounds has been a major industry issue that has gone without resolution for years.  Now, Sunshine Kids has an answer.  Will it set the trend and ultimately resolve the problem or will it just complicate LATCH even more?

For almost a decade, we’ve known that the issue of LATCH weight limits would be a problem.  The 8o pound rated Britax Husky has been around since 2002.  Since then, every year, at every conference, the question has been asked to experts from the automobile and child restraint manufacturers.  “Why can’t I use LATCH after 40 (or 48) pounds?”  Even better, “My child restraint instruction manual says I must use a top tether for higher weight children, but my vehicle manufacturer says I can’t, what do I do?”  The answer to these questions?  It’s always the same.  “We are working hard to resolve these issues, give the manufacturers time to come up with a good solution.”  Or, “There is a technical working group studying the problem and they will have recommendations soon.”

No solutions or answers ever came.

The 5-Step Test

Use a booster until all 5 Steps are metWhat is the 5-Step Test?

The 5-Step Test is the only accurate way to assess if a child is optimally protected by a vehicle’s lap/shoulder seatbelt system without a booster seat or other type of child restraint. The 5 “test” questions guide parents or caregivers in their assessment of the seatbelt fit on the child. This fit will vary depending on the child, the vehicle and even the specific seating position within the vehicle. The 5-Step Test takes all important variables into consideration including child’s size, ability to stay seated properly, depth of vehicle seat and seatbelt geometry. Weight and age are actually meaningless factors for determining if a seatbelt fits a child correctly. 

Taking the 5-Step Test is quick and simple. Have the child buckle up in the vehicle and then answer these 5 questions:

1. Does the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat?

2. Are knees bent comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?

3. Does seatbelt cross the shoulder properly? (it should be centered over the collar bone)

4. Is the lap portion of the seatbelt low – touching the thighs?

5. Can the child stay seated this way for the entire ride, every ride (awake and asleep)?

Bonus step – feet planted firmly on floor   


Why is the 5-Step Test Important?

The 5-Step Test is important because adult seatbelts are not designed to restrain children and ill-fitting belts can actually cause injuries in a crash. Of course that isn’t an excuse to not buckle up. Kids are always better off if they are restrained in a crash, even if it’s sub-optimally. Not buckling up dramatically increases the child’s risk of serious or fatal injuries. However, using a belt-positioning booster seat for older kids and “tweens” who don’t yet pass the 5-Step Test significantly reduces the risk of injury. Unfortunately, the  majority of older kids who really still need booster seats aren’t using one. This leads to a lot of misuse, or non-use, of the adult seatbelt. Poor seatbelt fit makes for uncomfortable kids and uncomfortable kids are much more likely to either not buckle up at all or to misuse the seatbelt in ways which reduce their effectiveness and increase the risks of injury in a crash. How many times have you seen kids tuck the shoulder belt under their arm, or worse yet – put it behind their back entirely? Whenever I see a child do this, I know that this child probably still needs a booster to help position the seatbelt properly.

Since most adults are visual learners, I’ve put together some examples of the 5-Step Test that you can practice on to get a better idea of what to look for. As you’ll see from these real life examples, age is irrelevant. 

Dorel Safety 1st Press Conference “Live” Blog

Darren at DorelI sit here in the Dorel exhibit, waiting for the start of the press conference.  I’m in an air filled cozy chair with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and live blogging wirelessly.  It just doesn’t get any better than this!  Please refresh your page to get the latest updates from the Dorel Air Protect press conference.  There will be some new product notes and photos coming, too!

Lorrie Walker from Safe Kids USA is discussing the importance of side impact protection.  There is an emphasis on putting kids in the back seat and in a restraint that is appropriate for their age and weight.  She is also stressing clear instructions and labels for ease of use and improved LATCH system hardware for ease of installation.  Finally, she advocates color coding manual and label information to distinguish the various modes of installation.

Janet Brelin-Fronari from Kettering University is showing videos of crash footage, showing typical crushing of vehicles and the physics of a frontal crash, with the passenger compartment remaining well protected.  In comparison, a federal side impact test video shows the serious nature of a 33 mph side impact with the door structure intruding into the occupant space.  At the moment of impact, the occupant moves toward the impact with the door moving in toward the occupant.  Kettering and Dorel have a crash test method that emphasizes the necessary protection from door intrusion.  They simulate the same crash energy on a crash test sled with a simulated door striking the child seat.

David Amirault from Dorel is discussing how the two chamber Air Protect cushion will help dissipate the energy.  A strong punch to the cushion showed how well it helped his hand from being injured, as it would have been if he had hit the table instead.  He followed up with side-by-side video of Air Protect vs. no Air Protect.  It showed a reduction in peak forces in the neck by up to 30%.

In the Q&A session, someone asked how the Complete Air varies from other competitive products with side impact protection.  Dorel said their crash test methodology is the only one that simulates door intrusion on their test sled.

Dorel will soon release the Safety 1st Complete Air LX, coming in the 4th quarter of 2009.  It is very similar to the standard Complete Air, but has a recline feature that allows for a greater recline angle for newborns and infants.  The lack of recline was one of our complaints, so it’s great to see this improvement.

Safety 1st Complete Air LX

Also coming soon is the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air, coming in the 1st quarter of 2010.  It’s a sharp infant seat that has the Air Protect feature that extends a good length of head area to cover small infants and larger babies.  It also has a wide range of adjustments for the harness straps (4 slots, 5″ to 11″) and crotch strap (3 slots with adjustable length).  The base has a nice lockoff system and a very nice recline foot.  Plus, the depth is greater than average allowing for more legroom for older babies.

Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air

It was also implied that other Air Protect seats will be forthcoming soon, including a booster seat product.

Also, as many of you know already, Safety 1st will now be marketing the Go Hybrid Booster (formerly from SafeGuard).  It will debut next month in October.  It is essentially unchanged, with the exception of new fabrics and minor padding changes.

That’s it from the “Live” Blog!  We’ll fill in the gaps with more photos and videos later today or later this week!

2010 Toyota Prius Review: Kids and Safety

We’d like to do more full new car reviews.  After all, the vehicle is at least half of the equation when it comes to protecting children in motor vehicle crashes.  Of course, the problem is that it’s a lot more difficult to obtain review samples of cars than carseats.  Someday, perhaps a wise, new media marketing exec will happen across this review and recognize an opportunity to promote kids, family and safety in their vehicle;-)

priusrear We bit the bullet again on an “all new” model, this time a third generation 2010 Toyota Prius.  We have a history of such questionable choices.  I mean, the smart thing to do would be to buy a proven, low miles, 2008 or 2009 Prius, right?  My 1991 Saturn SL2 was really all new from scratch, as was my wife’s Chrysler Cirrus that we bought in its debut year.  The 2000 Subaru Outback we swapped for the Prius was “all new” as well, though more like the Prius in that there was a previous generation that shared some systems.  Those cars were all decent, but each had its share of quirks and issues.  While none were reliability nightmares, not one of them was exceedingly reliable, either.

Our Prius has more things in common with the Outback it replaced.  Back in the summer of 1999, the new 2000 Outback had just been released.  Models were hard to find initially.  Many dealers were short on supply and it was hard to find the trim level we wanted (base wagon with cold weather package).  Local dealers wouldn’t actually deal, either.  We took the Cirrus to the local Carmax for a quote to use in our negotiations.  They mentioned that their new car dealer in Kenosha, Wisconsin sold new Subarus.  A call confirmed they even had a couple of the trim level we wanted at a better price.  The trade-in offer was generous, so off we went and back we came with a new car.

It wasn’t so different with the 3rd gen Prius.  They were very hard to find in the Chicago west suburbs during the peak of Cash for Clunkers.  It was a bad time to be buying, but the Outback needed to go.  The very few Prius in stock at local dealers were all higher level trim versions and no one was willing to allow test drives.  It seemed we’d have been lucky to pay full MSRP and accept one that is coming in a few weeks, sight unseen.  On a whim, I looked on the Carmax website on a Sunday night and found one.  A call Monday morning verified it was in stock and the salesman (Dan B) promised to hold it until we could get there that evening.  And he did!  Plus, it was $500 under MSRP.