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Rear-facing is no longer 5x safer. Really?

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You may have heard that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their recommendations on rear-facing. As usual, there’s some good news and some bad news. As with our carseat reviews, we will discuss both the good and the not-so-good and try to offer some perspective lacking in national news coverage of this update.

The Good News: The basic recommendation for rear-facing has NOT changed. “The Academy continues to recommend that all children ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, up to the manufacturer’s stated weight and length limits.” This updated guidance from the AAP now better matches NHTSA’s policy for consistency in messaging. The authors of CarseatBlog have strongly supported Extended Rear-Facing (ERF) for over 15 years and continue to support this practice.

ERF in 2003 – now off to college!

The Bad News: As we reported a year ago, a major study from 2007 was found to be flawed. This study was the main source of injury data to compare rear-facing child restraint systems (RFCRS) to forward-facing child restraints (FFCRS) in the USA, for children up to 23 months old. It was also the basis for the erroneous ‘Rear-facing is 5x safer’ statistic. Newer research found some contradictory data, causing the original study to be retracted. A revised study, by some of the authors of the original 2007 study, concluded, “Non-US field data and laboratory tests support the recommendation that children be kept in RFCRS for as long as possible, but the US NASS-CDS field data are too limited to serve as a strong statistical basis for these recommendations.” This led to the evolving AAP advice that, “…while the trend was for rear-facing to be superior to forward-facing for children under 2 years, the numbers were too low to reach statistical significance.” Definitely not as compelling as 5x safer.

More Good News:  The reason there is no significant real-world information is because the sample size of injuries to children in car seats is so low during the 22 year study period that there simply isn’t enough data to compare rear-facing to forward-facing conclusively. In fact, all these studies included less than severe injuries just to do an analysis, because there are so few data points for severe/fatal injuries to kids in child restraints. According to the revised study, “NASS-CDS data indicate an extremely low injury rate in children up to 2 years of age in both RFCRS and FFCRS. It turns out that both rear-facing and forward-facing car seats do a very good job of protecting children within the relevant age/weight/height limits!

Because the real-world injury data in the USA no longer supports that rear-facing is significantly safer for kids up to 23 months old, the AAP removed the portion of their policy statement recommending that kids remain rear-facing until at least 2 years old. Also, since the original study is retracted, we have to pretend that it never existed. Therefore, we can no longer claim that rear-facing is proven to be five times safer than forward-facing. We can’t even say that statistics prove that rear-facing reduces the real-world risk of serious injury for kids up to 2 years old [or to any age] in the USA.  On the plus side, the 2011 AAP policy on rear-facing to at least age 2 led to a lot of awareness about the safety advantages of rear-facing.

Let’s take a step back and examine the most recent AAP policy statements to put these minimum age recommendations in perspective. Fundamentally, the policies on rear-facing haven’t changed, except for the inclusion of minimums. For over 15 years, the AAP has continued to recommend that kids remain rear-facing to the limits of their car safety seat. In essence, “as long as possible.”

AAP 2018: All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their CSS’s manufacturer. Most convertible seats have limits that will permit children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.

AAP 2011: All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.

AAP 2002: Children should face the rear of the vehicle until they are at least one year of age and weigh at least 20 lb. Infants younger than one year who weigh 20 lb should still face the back of the car in a convertible seat or one that is approved for higher weights. For optimal protection, the child should remain facing the rear of the car until reaching the maximum weight for the car safety seat, as long as the top of the child’s head is below the top of the seat back.

Clearly, this is not the end for extended rear-facing. The retraction of the main study supporting ERF in the USA is indeed a big loss, but not a total surprise because this study had known flaws long before this retraction. Again, the fundamental guidance HAS NOT CHANGED. We still recommend kids remain rear-facing, preferably for 2 years or longer if they are within the rear-facing height and weight limits of their carseat. In particular, parents should pay close attention to the seated torso height limit of the rear-facing seat (which typically requires 1″ or more of shell above the head).

As always, we like to remind parents that these recommendations from the AAP are safest practice guidelinesThey aren’t rules or laws. The rules a parent must follow are those printed in their car seat and vehicle owners manuals, on the car seat labels and in any relevant state law. CarseatBlog endorses the AAP guidelines for added safety. We also like to offer perspective by looking at the BIG picture. The biggest reductions in risk come from the following simple steps:

  1. Drive unimpaired and undistracted
  2. Keep all passengers properly restrained according to the instruction manuals and state law
  3. Kids under 13 years in an appropriate rear seating position

So please, buckle up and drive safely!

See our Rear-Facing Links Guide for additional information.

Scam Stores? Buyer Beware!

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Yes, it IS too good to be true.  There has been a recent increase in suspicious looking retailer websites that are offering great deals on car seats and gear.  Graco and Britax seem to be popular targets with the fake deals, but this also applies to other brands.  The websites may look legitimate enough on the surface, with photos and logos appearing like real car seat companies, but there are a few red flags you can easily spot:

  1. Check the “About”, “Contact” or “Return” pages.  Do they clearly show a USA or Canada shipping address?  Scammers usually only have a contact form, if that.  If there’s no way to track them down, there’s also no way to return a product or file a complaint!
  2. Do they publish an email address and phone number, preferably a toll free number or one with a local area code if it’s a brick and mortar store?  If you can even find one, call it just to check and ask a few questions before you order online.  If you get a bad vibe, don’t risk it!
  3. Check the links to their social media pages.  Do they work?  Do they match the store name? Have they been around a while? Is their facebook page updated regularly and do they have at least 1000 followers and legitimate comments or Q&A there?  Scammers may have a dozen short, 5-star fake reviews, but that’s usually all.
  4. Google search the store name.  Can you find any reasonable comments that it’s a real company, even if it’s a smaller store with a brick and mortar location?  If it’s a local baby store, you should also find Yelp and other comments about them.
  5. Are the deals similar to the current prices at Amazon, Target, Walmart, BuyBuyBaby, Albee Baby and other legitimate retailers?  If you have never heard of the store and ALL their prices are way below ALL the other stores where you usually shop, then it’s probably too good to be true!

OUR ADVICE: If you are still in doubt, the easiest way to check is to call the customer service number of the manufacturer of the car seat to ask them if it is an authorized retailer in your country.   If you find their official product webpage, they usually have a locator for authorized distributors and retailers.  You can also ask us on our facebook page or facebook group  We will be able to steer you to deals at proven retailers!

When in doubt, DO NOT download anything from suspicious looking websites and DO NOT submit any personal information!

Here’s an example of an alleged FAKE.  The URL and store name alone should be red flags enough, but this website happened to fail just about every question above.  Have an issue?  Don’t count on being able to contact them.  And don’t be fooled by their presumably unauthorized use of a manufacturer’s logo!

 

 

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Now here’s a REAL contact page below from our friends at Kids ‘N Cribs, a legitimate online baby store with retail locations in California.  They have a contact number, address, a 4.5 star Yelp rating with 30 reviews and a facebook page with recent updates and over 4000 followers.  They are authorized retailers for about 100 brands, including Britax, Chicco, Clek, Diono, Graco, Max-Cosi, Nuna, Peg Perego, UPPAbaby and many more.

Please feel free to leave us a comment here or on our facebook page, especially if you have seen a fake store with unbelievably good deals!

CarseatBlog’s 10th Anniversary: LATCH Now and Then

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Almost 18 years ago, I started my first websites (Car-Seat.Org and Car-Safety.Org) after I had issues installing my first convertible car seat.  My point of emphasis was to answer questions about the new LATCH system, touted to make installing a car seat simple* for parents.  Many years later, I was reading a computer hardware specific blog and wondered, why not do the same for car seats?  There were plenty of mommy blogs and parenting websites at the time.  You could find others about child passenger safety in regard to general information and injury prevention, but there were really no internet magazines that published regularly about car seats as a product.  And so, CarseatBlog was created in early 2007.

We set some trends and even broke a few “rules” on the way.  Back then, it was taboo to say that you liked or disliked a product.  In our training as certified child passenger safety technicians and instructors, we were always told to be neutral and it was always implied that all car seats were created equal.  Of course, we all knew better.  There were differences, often BIG differences.  Meanwhile, professional review blogs and websites had proliferated for everything from automobiles to movies to cellphones, but car seats were widely ignored.  Other than a few exceptions like the old Epinions website or some shill websites with shopping portals that just cut and paste information from manufacturers, you couldn’t really find a website dedicated to car seats with expert, in-depth reviews.  The NHTSA had started issuing ease-of-use ratings that often seemed subjective, so why couldn’t we publish our own opinions?  Thus, our first product review appeared in May of 2008 for the Britax Frontier.

Technically, we didn’t begin to publish regularly until July, 2008, when we moved from WordPress.com to our own website.  So, this month is when we mark our “official” 10th anniversary.  Ten years ago today, I blogged about how little progress had been made on the LATCH system since it first appeared in the year 2000.  Things have changed slowly since then.  For example, only five years ago, if a parent wanted to know how long they could use the lower attachments or a top tether, an experienced expert had only a small chance of finding a clear answer for them in an owner’s manual or a 200+ page reference manual that had to be created to try to resolve the confusion.  At the same time some organizations lamented the low usage rates of the lower attachments and top tethers, other agencies confused technicians and parents with warnings about exceeding arbitrary default weight limits as low as 40 pounds.  There have been many such hurdles getting clear messages to parents.

Today the situation is a little better, as federal standards now require a lower anchorage weight limit to be printed in the manual and on labels.  Even if a parent actually notices this limit, they likely don’t realize that it can vary from one product to another, and may even differ for rear-facing and forward-facing use on the same product.  While many automakers support higher top tether limits today, it is often difficult for parents to find these limits in manuals.  The lower attachment part of LATCH has an alternative with no such weight limit for children: installation with the standard seatbelt system.  Unlike the lower attachments, there is no alternative for the top tether with a forward-facing child.  In fact, top tether use becomes an even more important safety feature for taller and heavier kids.  Nearly 20 years later, it’s still a failure that we can’t just tell parents to use LATCH until a limit of the car seat is reached.

Though these federal standards have stymied some innovations, like rigid LATCH systems for older kids, car seat manufacturers continue to impress.  Some flexible LATCH and seatbelt installation systems are as easy to use as the rigid LATCH systems we thought should be commonplace by now.  We hope that in another ten years we are still around to tell you how much things have improved!  For today, we would like to simply thank all of our readers and our colleagues in the car seat and automobile industries for their support of our ongoing mission on keeping kids safe in cars:-)

THANK YOU from Darren, Kecia, Heather, Jennie, Alicia and Katie!  In appreciation of all our wonderful readers, CarseatBlog and our great sponsors will be giving away at least one car seat each week for 10 weeks for our 10th anniversary, so be sure to keep reading!

 

* (Not.)

RECALL: Harmony Big Boost Deluxe Booster

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May 2018 Harmony Big Boost Deluxe Recall

BRAND MODEL PRODUCTION DATES
HARMONY BIG BOOST DELUXE 11/01/2015 – 06/24/2017

Summary

Harmony Juvenile Products (Harmony) is recalling certain Harmony Big Boost Deluxe booster seats. In the event of a crash, the seat belt may cause excessive force to be applied to the restrained child’s chest. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 213, “Child Restraint Systems.”

Remedy

The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Harmony customer service at 1-877-306-1001.

Notes

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

Recall Information from NHTSA