Combi Crash Tests – A Better Way?


We at were intrigued to hear that Combi was doing additional above and beyond FMVSS 213 mandated car seat testing in Canada of their car seats.  Combi’s Director of Operations, Ed Whitaker, implemented the extra testing when he found out that the Combi Centre and Shuttle infant seats were detaching from their bases during NCAP testing of vehicles, but not during 213 testing.  Let’s recap that the 213 test car seats go through is tougher than 98% of all car crashes in the U.S.  It’s a very difficult test to pass and many experts in the field call it a “stiff” test.  Like Kecia mentioned in Monday’s blog, the extra testing done to the seats in the NCAP testing was just that: extra, above and beyond, let’s install them in the cars and see what happens kind of testing.  And some of them failed because they weren’t designed to pass that kind of test.

Combi found out their infant seats were separating from the bases in the NCAP tests and became alarmed.  It clearly wasn’t happening in the 213 tests, nor was it happening in the field (what we call “real life”).  Ed Whitaker went to Transport Canada’s Crash Worthiness Research Division to help design a test for the infant seats that would be an additional test as part of Combi’s quality assurance for their products.  They also found where the seats had a problem and issued a recall.  The process of testing worked exactly as it should have.

So, is the 213 compliance test obsolete?  Is a 30 mph test not good enough anymore?  Should we be testing car seats in vehicles?

Well, the 213 bench test has been around for a while.  It’s basically a ‘60s vehicle back seat: 8° slope (which is pretty flat) and fairly squishy, from what I understand.  How many vehicles on the road today have a back seat that fit that description?  A new proposed bench has a 15° slope with a firmer cushion. That would make a big difference in performance.  As for testing at higher speeds, well, we’ve got a test that’s better than 98% of all car crashes.  In the JPMA response to the Tribune article, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) is quoted as saying that the likelihood of increasing the safety of seats won’t go up if the speed of the test is increased, but the cost of the seats will.  Think of cost that will have to go into each seat to make it strong enough to pass the faster test.  It would also probably increase the weight of an infant carrier.  Whitaker agrees that a higher speed isn’t needed to test restraints, but that more research needs to go into the current 213 testing surfaces.  And as of right now, Combi has that extra QA Canadian test.

Is it really feasible to test every car seat in every vehicle a la the NCAP test?  Not really.  Think of all the different combinations: there are typically 3 back seat locations, possibly 3 different seat belt configurations in the back seat, infant seats can be installed with and without the base, with the seat belt, with LATCH, convertible seats installed rear-facing and forward-facing with seat belts and LATCH, and the list goes on and on.  And then there’s every type of vehicle on the road.  I’m overwhelmed thinking about it!  It all boils down to the parent following best practice: find the seat that fits your vehicle, fits your child, and fits your budget.

You can read Combi’s response to the Chicago Tribune article here.


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