2017 GMC Acadia Preview

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AcadiaCarseatBlog recently got back from the Chicago Auto Show, and one of the vehicles we took a look at was the redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia.

We’ve done reviews of the 2011/12 Buick Enclave and 2013 Chevy Traverse, sister vehicles of the Acadia. Those versions had great crash ratings and worked well with car seats, making them a good choice for families.

With the 2017 redesign, the Acadia will become even more family-friendly.

First, they’ve added some important safety features like lane departure warning and assist, front pedestrian braking, automatic forward braking (available on some models), and front- and rear-parking assist. There are also four cameras that combine to give a 360-degree view around the car.

Specifically for families and caregivers, GMC has added a feature to prevent children from being accidentally left in the car. How it works is that a system activates when the rear doors are opened and closed within 10 minutes of the ignition turning on. Once the driver arrives at his/her destination and turns off the car, a light and sound reminds the driver that something (or someone) might be in the back seat.

As far as we know, this is the first system put in place by an automaker to help prevent children from being left in cars, and we’re happy to see GMC being proactive in that regard.

The Acadia will also have GM’s Teen Driver features, which aim to help teens drive more safely and give parents insight into their children’s driving habits. Teen Driving automatically mutes the radio until the driver (and, if applicable, front passenger) have buckled their seatbelts. It also lets parents set a maximum volume for the radio, and parents can set maximum speeds that, if exceeded, will result in visual and audible warnings for the driver. Parents can also review their teen’s drive to see how far and how fast they went.

Non-safety features, but ones that are nice for families anyway, include five USB charging ports, including two in the third row. Fold-flat seats in the second and third row provide for lots of cargo room, and the second-row seats can slide forward with a car seat installed for easy third row access.

We also liked the custom-fit weather mat available for the third row of the Acadia. It folds with the seat so you don’t need to add/remove anything when you put the third row up or down. Even better, it has cut-outs for tether anchor access. (It’s the little things.)

The 2017 GMC Acadia will be available this spring. We hope to have a full review of it soon.

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Mythbusters: 5-point Harnesses Are Safer than Boosters for Older Kids

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Is a 5-point harness safer than a booster seat and seat belt for an older child?

This is a myth I’ve personally wanted to confirm/bust for quite some time, so I decided it was time to do the research and try to find a definitive answer. It seems to be a common question from a lot of parents and there has not been one final declaration either way, so today we’ll take a look at the evidence and try to come to a consensus. No promises that we’ll find a real answer though.

Myth: 5-point harnesses are always safer than a 3-point seat belt for older kids.

So right off the bat, I want to make a few points- by “always” in the myth, I mean for neurotypical, booster age (let’s say age 5 and up) children and adults. It’s clear that 5-point harnesses are safer for children who cannot sit in the proper position for an entire car ride, but for adults and mature children, we need to look at the evidence to see if there’s an advantage either way.

Transport Canada - Integrated harness and booster NCAP test

Photo Credit: Transport Canada

First, let’s look at the studies that have compared properly fitting seat belts (meaning in a booster for kids age 5 and up) and 5-point harnesses in similar crash circumstances:

That’s right, there aren’t any. Zip, zilch, zero. So that will make this a bit more challenging.

There are a number of studies that compare children in 5-point harnesses to seat belts alone and a number that compare children in belt positioning boosters to seat belts alone, and even one Canadian study that compared boosters with a 5-point harnessed seat but with a dummy that was heavier than the weight limit of the harness. But none that compare children in 5-point harnesses to children in belt-positioning boosters for older kids.  One study did show a modest benefit of a 5-point harness over boosters for 3-year olds, but showed much smaller benefits for 4-year olds and concluded, “The results for any type of injury support the recommendation for graduation at 4 years or about 40 pounds in general, although it may be the case that more severe injuries are better prevented by CRS (Child Restraint System with harness) even at 4 years old.”

So despite the past research, we don’t have any firm evidence to tell us whether older kids (5+) are safer in boosters vs. forward-facing 5-point harnesses. I’m sure it will be no surprise that in the studies that exist, both 5-point harnesses and high back belt-positioning boosters both reduce the risk of injuries to children as compared to seat belts alone. But that doesn’t help us here.

So we’ll take a step back and look at the established pros and cons of each restraint type.

5-point Harness (forward-facing):

-Pro: When used correctly they almost completely eliminate the risk of ejection in all types of crashes.
-Pro: They disperse the crash forces over more areas of the body, which equals less force in each area.
-Pro: They keep a child optimally positioned throughout a car ride, even when asleep.
-Pro: They have a tether that reduces forward head excursion (as compared with non-use of tether).
-Con: The seat must be installed properly with less than one inch of movement with top tether for best practice.
-Con: The harness must be appropriately tightened (to pass the pinch test), otherwise child will experience greater head excursion increasing the chances that the head will strike something inside the vehicle.
-Con: The harness has a weight limit and a height limit
-Con: In holding the body against the seat, the neck may incur increased forces in a frontal crash.

Belt-Positioning Booster with 3-point Lap/Shoulder Belt:

SK300 in booster mode - great belt fit-Pro: Seat belt retracts on its own (ideally), so there’s less risk of it being too loose (in appropriate riders).
-Pro: No complicated installation process.
-Pro: No weight limit on seat belts.
-Pro: Backless boosters will have less head excursion in frontal crashes simply because the head is starting off in a more rearward position initially.
-Pro: A lap/shoulder seatbelt allows the neck and spine to move together more easily (compared to 5-pt harness)
-Con: Kids can move out of optimal position easily and frequently, especially while sleeping.
-Con: Some seats don’t have LATCH to hold them in place while loading or unoccupied
-Con: More variables involved (as compared to properly installed 5-pt harness) that cannot be accounted for pre-crash. E.g., what point in the crash sequence the retractor locks. Does the child “roll out” of the shoulder belt during the crash?
-Con: Seatbelts provide fewer points of restraint with the body, which may mean greater chance of head excursion, ejection and submarining under the lap belt in severe crashes. Especially a concern in far side impacts, rollovers and multi-impact crashes.

Well. That didn’t really help much, now did it?

forward-facing crash testWe unquestionably need more investigation on head/neck forces in 5-point harnesses versus 3-pt seat belt. When a body is harnessed into a seat, the only real free movement comes above and below the harness- so we see the neck snap forward (why rear facing is recommended for younger kids) and the arms and legs go flying forward. It’s a lot of pressure on the neck, which isn’t ideal for children before their spine is fully ossified (converted from cartilage to bone).

In a seatbelt, there is more rotational movement of the body around the shoulder belt, which may, theoretically, reduce the forces acting on the head and neck because the spine is also moving. What we don’t know is if it’s a meaningful decrease in neck forces or if this theory even pans out in real life, especially for older kids. And, even if there is a meanfuling decrease in neck forces in a 3-pt seat belt, is it significant enough to offset an increased risk of ejection or partial ejection in a booster – especially in side impacts and rollovers?

So, I realize this is anticlimactic, but:
BUSTED, PLAUSIBLE OR CONFIRMED?

Ummmmm, PLAUSIBLE?

Harness, Highback booster, backless booster

There’s no real answer here, which is as frustrating for me as it is for you, I can assure you. I think the big takeaways are:

1) Children who cannot sit properly in a seatbelt through an entire car ride (even when asleep) NEED to be in a 5-point harness, even if we find out that seat belts are better in some ways.
2) Proper use of both 5-point harnessed seats and belt-positioning boosters greatly reduce the risk of injury in a crash.
3) We need someone to really study this.

I promise to update when/if more information becomes available. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what other people have found when researching this themselves.

Flame Retardants Got You Hot?

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OrbitToddlerG2Last night CBS news in San Francisco ran two stories (you can watch them here and here) about flame retardants in car seats. The reporter, Julie Watts, was concerned about the levels of TDCPP (otherwise known as chlorinated tris) found in her Orbit car seat, despite the company having claimed not to use the chemical.

Orbit has long been considered a “safer” choice when it comes to flame retardants. Their website claimed that its seats tested below detectable levels of the fire retardant chemicals known to be the most concerning, like TDCPP. But testing done last year by the Ecology Center found otherwise, and in December it became national news, although not many people seemed to notice. You can read Orbit’s response to Watt’s questions about the claims here.

Watts has been reporting on flame retardants for a long time and has rid her house of foams containing flame retardants. When she was pregnant, she (like many other parents) bought an Obrit system specifically because of their “green” claims. As an Orbit owner and a parent, she was concerned about the Ecology Center’s findings. However, she thought the levels were caused by a temporary supply issue and that her seat wasn’t affected. (This blog post from a retail store that sold Orbit products says that Orbit stopped using OEKO-TEX certified foam when they switched to the G3 line, which was in October 2013.)

But later, when her daughter participated in an unrelated study, Watts learned her child’s levels of TDCPP were alarmingly high. According to her news report, the average child has 5-7 ppb of TDCPP. (Watts herself had 3.8 ppb.) Her daughter had 60 ppb—eight times the average. Because she and her child share a (largely flame-retardant-free) home, and because her daughter doesn’t attend preschool, Watts says she looked to her car seat as the source of the chemical.

Within 24 hours of discontinuing the Orbit’s use, her daughter’s level of TDCPP dropped to 8.68 ppb, and 10 days later it dropped to 4.25 ppb. (TDCPP has a short half-life of under 8 hours in blood and tissue, so it’s not surprising the levels would drop so quickly once the source is removed.) Ultimately, three independent labs identified TDCPP in foam from Watt’s car seat.

Chlorinated flame retardants, like TDCPP, are allowed in car seats, and some other brands have used it, too. If Orbit used it also, there wouldn’t necessarily be anything wrong with that, except the company had made claims to the contrary. Another potential issue is that products containing California Prop 65 chemicals (like TDCPP) are required to include a warning label, which Orbit’s car seats did not. According to Watts’ report and documents from the California Attorney General’s office, Orbit has been served with two Prop 65 violation notices, but settled both out of court and was not required to notify parents. Other manufacturers have also been served with, and settled, Prop 65 notices, so Orbit isn’t necessarily alone in this.

It should be noted that according to Watts, testing of Orbit car seats manufactured in 2015 did not test positive for TDCPP, so the issue is not necessarily ongoing and does not necessarily affect all of its products.

With that said, people are bound to be buzzing about flame retardants in car seats, so let’s tackle some of the questions people might have:

Aren’t there flame retardants in all car seats? Is this really anything to be concerned about?

flameFederal law requires car seats to meet flammability standards, and they generally can’t do that without the use of chemicals. There’s really no way around it. But there are a lot of flame retardants out there, and there’s no requirement that companies use chlorinated tris/TDCPP.

Some flame retardants are known to be worse than others. Chlorinated tris was voluntarily removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s due to cancer concerns. It’s listed as a Prop 65 chemical in California—one known to cause cancer. It has also been linked to developmental delays and reproductive harm.

The concern is great enough that a few years ago, manufacturers like Graco and Britax vowed to phase out chlorinated tris from its products. Other industries have ceased using TDCPP as well, and in 2012 one of the chemical’s manufacturers announced it would stop producing the chemical by 2015 and had already stopped selling it for use in furniture.

If other industries—and chemical manufacturers themselves—are moving away from chlorinated tris, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that the car seat industry would move away from it, too.

Come on! Wouldn’t a kid need to eat a car seat to get any exposure to flame retardants?

Nope.  Flame retardants aren’t chemically bonded to the foam or fabric they protect. They can—and do—seep out of foam, where they can settle in dust (which can be inhaled or eaten) or can just leach out onto surrounding objects, like a hand resting on top of a car seat cover or the Cheerios that fell into the crack of the seat. Kids don’t need to put the actual car seat in their mouths to wind up with chemicals in their bodies.  How much exposure risk is in a vehicle remains unclear, but studies have confirmed that the substance leeches out of foams in furniture into dust particles.  A child in a carseat is restrained in close proximity to the flame retardant in a small, confined space, but the length of time can vary considerably, of course.

But how serious is the risk, really?

I don’t know. I don’t know if we’re all going to wind up with cancer and neurological damage from TDCPP or if none of us will. An expert Watts interviewed for her recent article “explained if someone ingested 5.4 micrograms of the chemical every day, over a lifetime, their cancer risk would be 1 in 100,000.” However, given the other potential risks of the chemical, children’s developing bodies, and the many other exposures people have on a regular basis, we don’t think it’s unreasonable for parents to be concerned about a chemical that has been shown to have detrimental effects, especially when alternatives are available.  The other related question regards the risk of not having a flame retardant child seat.  Are these flame retardants effective in major car fires, or primarily to reduce the risk from cigarettes and matches?

What can parents do?

You can look for car seats that don’t include TDCPP. The Ecology Center publishes occasional reports showing which flame retardants were found in which seats. The list isn’t exhaustive, and there’s no guarantee that a different batch of seats would test exactly the same, but it’s a start. (We wrote about the latest Ecology Center report here.)

You can also take some steps to avoid exposure. Wash your car seat cover (according to instructions) and vacuum often to eliminate dust. Crack windows in very hot weather and let your car air out–chemicals release faster in the heat. Wash hands often, and don’t let your child spend more time in the car seat than necessary.

More than anything, it’s important to remember that car crashes are a known, common risk and remain the #1 killer of children in most age groups. The known harm from fire retardants is not as concrete. Always use child restraints!

 

 

Urbini Petal Infant Seat Review: Safety at a Great Price

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PetalThe Urbini Petal is a budget-priced rear-facing only carseat with features that rival pricier infant seat models. The sleek-looking seat is packed with energy-absorbing foam, a built-in lockoff on the base, has a preemie insert, and is still one of the lightest carriers on the market. We know that when carrying your baby, every ounce counts! The Urbini Petal and the phil & teds Alpha are sibling seats; we have a review of the Alpha here: phil & teds Alpha Infant Carseat Review: Kia Ora! Setup for a preemie or very small full-term newborn can be daunting, but for average newborns, the Petal is a solid contender at a great price.

Weight and Height Limits:

  • Rear-facing: 4-35 lbs. AND less than 32”. Child’s head must be 1” from top of seat shell.

Urbini Petal Overview:

  • Fantastically thick EPS foam lining the seat
  • 4 harness slot positions
  • 2 crotch strap/buckle positions
  • Removable infant insert
  • Preemie insert for infants under 6 lbs.
  • 2 recline angles on base: one for 4-20 lbs., one for 20-35 lbs.
  • Built-in lockoff on base
  • Clip-on style lower LATCH connectors
  • Carrier can be installed Euro-style without base
  • FAA approved for use on aircraft
  • 6 yr lifespan before seat expires

Urbini Petal Urbini Petal side view

Petal Measurements

Harness slots: 6”, 7 ¾”, 9 ½”, 11 ¼”
External widest point (at handle): 16 ¾”
Width of base at belt path: 13 ½”
Width of base at widest point: 14 ¼”
Internal shell height: 20”
Crotch strap depth: 4”, 6”
Seat depth: 12”
Carrier weight: 7.5 lbs.

Installation