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Tether Anchor Weight Limits – Honda, Acura, Mercedes & Ferrari aren’t competitive in one important area of child occupant safety

First and foremost, I’d like to say that we’ve been heaping a lot of well-deserved praise on Honda lately. Darren and I have both had the pleasure of reviewing and reporting on the new 2011 Odyssey.  Additionally, there was the recent release of stellar crash test results for this newest generation Ody from NHTSA & the IIHS which prompted yet another blog to sing the praises of a job well done by Honda.  Even here on the homefront, we have a new-to-us 2006 Honda Pilot sitting in the driveway and overall I’m very impressed and happy with our new vehicle. 

However, with that said, there is one area of child occupant protection where Honda and their luxury brand, Acura, really fall short.  I’m talking about tether anchor weight limits.  To be fair, it’s not just Honda & Acura that have failed to compete in this category – Mercedes Benz & Ferrari also state the same low, uber-conservative 40 lb limit for their lower anchors and top tether anchors.  But it’s not a stretch to assume that there are far more children in the US riding around in the backseat of Honda vehicles than in all the others (Acura, MB & Ferrari) combined.  That’s why it’s so important for us, as advocates for child passenger safety, to attempt to bring some much-needed attention to this issue.  We are continually frustrated in our efforts to practice and promote best-practice recommendations for child occupant protection because our efforts are hampered by ridiculously low tether anchor weight limits. 

For the record, I’m specifically referring to the numbers provided by the vehicle manufacturers themselves to the editors and researchers of The LATCH Manual, published by Safe Ride News.  For those who are not familiar with The LATCH Manual – it’s considered the premier reference resource used by CPS practioners for obtaining accurate and comprehensive information on all things relating to the LATCH system.  Unfortunately, in the current 2011 Edition of LATCH Manual, Honda continues to list 40 lbs as the maximum child weight for using lower anchors and top tether anchor in their vehicles.  

In reality, the stated 40 lbs weight limit on the lower anchors isn’t a huge problem because there’s a simple and more-than-adequate alternative to using the lower anchors to secure a CR – it’s the old standby, the vehicle’s seatbelt!  However, in the vast majority of situations there is no simple alternative to reducing head excursion in a crash without using the vehicle’s top tether anchor.  Of course, this is only a dilemma if your child weighs more than 40 lbs and rides in a Honda/Acura/Mercedes or Ferrari (we should all be lucky enough to have this problem!) in a CR with a harness rated beyond 40 lbs.  But considering how many kids over 40 lbs are currently riding in higher-weight harnessed seats, this is an enormous problem that deserves immediate attention. 

    

In comparison to the 40 lb limits stated by Honda, Acura, Mercedes & Ferrari - most other vehicle manufacturers either state higher weight limits or simply defer to the Child Restraint instructions for guidance on the issue of when to use (and when to discontinue usage) of lower anchors and/or top tether anchors.  Forward-facing CRs should be used in the manner that they were designed and tested to be used – which in most cases includes the usage of the top tether strap if a tether anchor is available.   

To summarize, it’s not like Honda uses subpar tether anchor hardware compared to Ford, Nissan, Toyota or Volvo (who all defer to the CR instructions for TA usage).  All lower and top tether anchors have to meet the same federal standards mandated in FMVSS 225.  Why the engineers at Honda/Acura, Mercedes & Ferrari have greater liability concerns and/or less faith in the anchor hardware is a mystery to those of us who are not privy to their water cooler discussions.   And I’m not trying to over-simplify the issues – I just don’t understand what they’re thinking.  These low, arbitrary tether anchor weight limits are potentially putting children at risk for head injuries due to increased head excursion in a crash if the tether strap on the CR isn’t used.  These limits also tie the hands of CPS Technicians and Instructors as they attempt to promote and educate parents & caregivers on best practice recommendations for child passenger safety.  

Hopefully, Honda (and all vehicle manufacturers) will quickly adopt weight limits consistent with today’s child restraint systems rated to 65 or even 80 pounds.  At the very least, they could defer to the child safety seat manufacturer for guidance on limits.  Providing no such guidance, as is the case with many Honda owners manuals, places both parents and technicians in a very confusing situation regarding an important safety issue.

The Family Minivan Gets Disrespected

Minivans get no respect.  They’re the Rodney Dangerfield of the vehicle world: plucky vehicles that can haul loads of people or stuff, drag boats or campers behind, and still get no respect.  It can be overt or subtle.  You’re probably guilty of disrespecting a minivan at one time or another—I know I am and I drive one!  Think about it—you’re pulling up to an intersection with a red light, you have a choice of lanes and there’s a minivan stopped in the center lane, a Honda sedan in the inside lane, and a Cadillac in the outside lane.  Who do you get behind?  Of course!  The Honda!  You don’t want to be behind the minivan because the driver will likely be driving too cautiously or singing songs to the rearview mirror, right?  Ugh, so frustrating!  And the Caddy likely holds some elderly people and will go 10 mph under the speed limit, so the Honda is the correct choice.  Bueno!

2011 Nissan Quest Review: Is the Newly Redesigned Minivan for You?

It’s been 7 years since Nissan came out with the original Quest and it was overdue for a redesign. They’ve had a history of having forward-thinking design with their minivans—no stuffy styling here.  And the Nissan engineers have continued in that tradition with sporty styling that says “Outta my way!”  I’ll be honest: I wasn’t all that impressed with the appearance of the 2011 Quest by what I saw on their website.  It was very 2-dimensional (and yes, I’m aware they haven’t come out with a 3-D home computer yet ;) ), even as I dragged the slider around to spin the virtual van every which way and back.  I just didn’t see the lines that were supposedly there.  So, first impressions were dim.

But, I was excited to get away—an overnight mini-vacation in an awesome hotel—L’Auberge Del Mar!  For the rest of the journalists there covering the “ride,” it was yet another day away from home.  I don’t get out much evidently.  When my driver pulled up in front of the hotel, there was a Quest parked right there in front for all guests to see.  I was impressed!  It looked *so* much nicer in person than on the website.  It looks small, but the length is within a half-inch of the new Sienna.  Perhaps it’s the shininess that caught my eye, the newness.  It is a very different-looking van from all the competition, and that is what Nissan is known for doing with the styling on its mini-vans. 

2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite: The Ultimate Kids & Carseats Review! (with tons of pics & videos)

Truthfully, there are probably a hundred different reviews and blogs of the new 2011 Honda Odyssey all floating around the internet by now.  Two of them were written by our own fabulous Darren Qunell who had a chance to preview this 4th Generation Ody at a press event in La Jolla, CA this past September.  So, what sets this particular 2011 Odyssey Review apart from all the others?  Read on, my friends.  There are specific details here pertaining to kids, carseats and safety that you’re just not going to find anywhere else.  Guaranteed.  I mean seriously, only a nutcase would drag 20 different carseats & boosters home and then spend countless hours in the driveway (much to the amusement of her neighbors and random passersby) installing them in various seating positions just to give perspective consumers and our faithful blog readers as many specific details as possible on this vehicle. 
     
Now a little background info and some prerequisite homework for our readers.  First, a huge shout-out to Honda and to STI Fleet Services who so graciously delivered this vehicle and then picked it up a week later.  Additionally, since I have no desire to duplicate all of the numerous details in Darren’s original review – I’m going to urge you to read Part I and Part II of his review first if you haven’t already done so.  His impressive 2-part review covers the features, specs and options of this newest generation Odyssey.  Consider my review “4th Gen Ody 102″ as it will supplement and build-upon the things that Darren has already covered.

Thinking about a New 2011 Ford Explorer with Inflatable Seatbelts?

You may want to rethink that option package and buy the regular old-fashioned seatbelts.  While a great idea in theory with adults and with older kids in backless boosters, if you’re still installing carseats, these belts can cause problems for you depending on your carseat manufacturer.  Now sure, this technology is old news by now since Darren talked about it a year ago.  But carseat manufacturers are just now putting the warnings in their manuals about installing their carseats using these inflatable belts.  Britax is the first to put the warnings in their manuals and Combi is set to follow.  Ford has stated that they have tested carseats with the “airbag” seatbelts and the carseats have performed as expected. 

What do you do?  You follow the carseat manufacturer’s guidelines since they have the best knowledge of how their carseat will perform.  If the manufacturer says no inflatable seatbelts, try using LATCH instead to install the carseat or use a carseat from a different manufacturer that doesn’t have the inflatable seatbelt warning.  If you’re buying a 2011 Ford Explorer, check the options list on the window sticker carefully to see if the inflatable seatbelts are included.  Some dealers are automatically choosing this option when ordering the vehicles from Ford, so you may not have a choice if you’re choosing from a vehicle on the lot.  Inflatable seatbelts are also on some commercial airplanes in the bulkhead seats and on many private planes.  They are thicker than regular airplane seatbelts, so they should be easy to detect.  And there is another 2011 car with the inflatable belts: the Lexus LFA.  But I dare you to install a carseat in that car ;).