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Mythbusters: Can Rear-Facing Car Seats Touch Front Vehicle Seats?

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There aren’t a lot of absolutes in child passenger safety. Just when you think something is a hard and fast rule, like, never use lower anchors and seatbelts together, companies (I’m looking at you Clek and Nuna) decide that’s okay for one or more of their seats. Today we’re going to examine another “rule” that is commonly perceived as an absolute.

Last month we ran an article on the new rear-facing law in California and in it, there was a picture of a child in a rear-facing convertible seat that, from the camera angle, looked like it was touching the front vehicle seat. If you actually looked at the picture more closely, it’s not, but it didn’t stop a lot of people from being confused about it and indicating some frustration that the picture showed misuse. But, did it? Even if the rear-facing seat was touching the back of the front seat, does that always mean it’s being used incorrectly?

Myth: a rear-facing car seat is never allowed to touch the vehicle seat in front of it.

I decided the first place to look was the CPS Technician training curriculum. I read through the rear-facing section and the airbag section and…nothing. There is nothing specific in the curriculum that says that a rear-facing car seat touching the front seat is inherently forbidden. This doesn’t mean that it might not be, but it’s clearly not one of those hard and fast rules that we teach technicians to teach to parents.

So, since it’s not in the curriculum, we’ll have to dig into this differently.

Let’s stop and look at why people think it’s forbidden. The first explanation I heard was that it prevents ride down time (time for the crash forces to be dissipated) for the child and the child restraint. I hear that concern, but I’m not sure it’s actually valid. Think about rear-facing seats with load legs that make contact with the vehicle floor. Also think about rear-facing seats which allow what we commonly refer to as “European beltpath routing”. Euro belt routing means the shoulder belt portion of the seatbelt is routed behind the shell of the rear-facing seat, limiting its ability to rotate down in a frontal crash. All of these things essentially do the same thing that a car seat making contact with a front vehicle seat does. We know the crash test data for those seats are almost universally better than seats without load legs or Euro beltpath routing so this theory doesn’t hold water. Touching the vehicle seat back should not result in greater crash forces being directed onto the child.

The second explanation I’ve heard is that it de-activates the front seat’s airbags. My research on this shows many articles without references, but I can’t find any official word on it that speaks for all cars. My very unscientific experiment showed that no matter how hard I pushed against my husband’s passenger vehicle seat, it did not cause the airbag to turn off with my husband sitting in the seat. Obviously this isn’t hard or fast proof and shouldn’t be assumed to be as much.

Do any car seats explicitly allow touching? The answer is yes.

There are many other seats, more than I could list and more than I have time to verify, that do not mention it at all in their manuals. We have confirmed that Chicco allows their rear-facing only seats (KeyFit & Fit2) and convertible seats (NextFit) to make light contact with the front seat after being properly installed, however this is not stated anywhere in the manuals or on Chicco’s website. Therefore, we suggest you call Chicco yourself to confirm this information since we are unable to provide you with a direct link to this allowance.

Do any seats forbid it explicitly? The answer is also yes. The most significant of these is Evenflo, whose rear-facing only seats, Embrace, Nurture, LiteMax & SafeMax Infant, all require 1.5 inches of space between the child restraint and the vehicle seat when the car seat is installed in an outboard seating position. This information can be found under the subtitle “Location Warnings” (usually on or near page 5 in the instruction manual). This rule does not apply when these infant seats are installed in the rear center seating position of the vehicle. This 1.5″ space rule also does not apply to any Evenflo convertible seat.

Okay, so no clear consensus for car seat manufacturers. What about vehicles?

I looked at my vehicle’s manual (2015 Honda Odyssey). I read the airbag and child safety sections thoroughly and nowhere does it forbid a car seat from touching the front vehicle seat. It DOES say that if there’s no front seat passenger and the airbag light doesn’t switch to the OFF position, it could be because a car seat is touching the vehicle seat back, but it never says not to do this. So it looks like this pressure, at least in my car, will actually prevent the airbag from turning off, rather than resulting in it not deploying if it’s supposed to.

For good measure I checked my husband’s as well, since they are different companies and both have advanced airbags. Unlike my Odyssey, my husband’s Nissan Rogue does seem to forbid it, though not in very certain terms. In a troubleshooting section, they said that if the airbag light is not working as expected, “(m)ake sure that a child restraint or other object is not pressing against the rear of the seatback.” I would assume this is as good as saying don’t do that, but then it also forces the question is touching the same as pushing?

This might be the heart of the issue. Is light touching of a car seat likely to change the airbag function? I would argue no. If you’re putting less than 2 pounds of pressure (which seems to be an allowable amount of weight in seat backs for airbags) on the vehicle seat, then you are unlikely to impact the function of the airbags. If you’re unwilling to take that risk, it’s understandable and that’s your choice. But I think we should be clear that there is a difference between forceful touching, where the vehicle seatback is deformed from pressure of the seat, to light contact where the car seat and vehicle seat are merely contacting one another.

So what about crash mechanics? I’d like to make a somewhat unverified assertion here and you can evaluate it and decide if it has merit on your own. A child restraint making light contact with a vehicle seat in a crash seems less likely to cause damage to the child restraint and the child than a child restraint that isn’t close to the vehicle seat and slams into it during a crash. The forces involved in hitting the front seat during the initial downward rotation of a frontal crash seem far more problematic than the front seat limiting some motion of a car seat in a crash. I don’t have any links handy to prove this theory, but it makes sense that slamming into a vehicle seat during a crash will generate higher impact forces than not slamming into it.

Touching vs. Bracing: What’s the difference?

The term “bracing” has been used in many different ways over the years but the consensus seems to be that bracing means more than just light contact. The definition of the word brace is “anything that imparts rigidity or steadiness”. If your rear-facing car seat is “braced”, that means it’s relying on the front seat for support. To my knowledge, no car seat manufacturer allows this as it may alter the recline angle or otherwise affect the installation of the car seat. As stated in the Britax FAQ (pictured above), your rear-facing car seat should be installed securely first and then the front seat should be moved back and/or reclined until it makes light contact.

What about sliding a piece of paper between the rear-facing car seat and vehicle seat? 

Sometimes a CPS Technician will tell a parent or caregiver that if they can slide a piece of paper freely between the back of the [properly installed] rear-facing car seat and the front seat, then it’s not a problem. This is a reasonable comment in many situations since it’s a concept that is easy to understand and visualize even if you don’t literally slide a piece of paper between the two. However, this isn’t a “rule” and it’s not mentioned anywhere in the technician training curriculum or in any car seat manuals that I’ve noticed. This is simply a teaching tool that someone came up with years ago and many of us said, “hey, we like that analogy and we’re going to use that when we educate parents too.

So what’s the verdict?

Kind of busted, but only because I wrote the statement, “a rear-facing car seat is never allowed to touch the vehicle seat in front of it”, as an absolute truth.

Some rear-facing seats cannot make contact with the vehicle seat in front of them because the car seat manual forbids it. Some rear-facing car seats cannot make contact with the vehicle seat in front of them because the vehicle manual forbids it. But, if neither the car seat manual nor the vehicle manual expressly forbid it, your car seat can lightly touch the vehicle seat in front of it.

 

So the official decree is, as always, read your manuals thoroughly before installing your car seats!

New California Car Seat Law Changes Minimum Forward Facing Age

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chicco-nextfit-zip-air-rf-There are a number of reasons why we love living in California and starting January 1st, there’s one more reason to add to the list. On the first day of 2017, California will join a small group of states that require children to remain rear facing until age 2 (with a few specific caveats).

Several existing laws remain in place, including:
1. All children under age 8 must be buckled into a car seat or booster seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
2. All children 8 years or older or 4’9″ or taller may use the vehicle seat belt if it fits them properly.

But the newest component replaces the previous 1 year and 20 pounds rear facing minimum requirement. California law states (Sections 27360 27360.5 27360.6 27363) :

“Effective January 1, 2017, children under 2 years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall. The child shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.”

Violating these laws carries a fine that can exceed $500 for each improperly restrained child, as well as having points added to the driver’s license. In short, it’s not worth it, especially when you consider that ignoring this law puts your child at risk of death or significant injury.

SceneraNEXTEmmaRF sideThe law is written so that families of children who are very tall and/or heavy do not have to buy an expensive extended rear facing seat to make it to age 2. To clarify, the 40 pound/inch caveat should not be used to imply that rear facing is somehow less important for a 40 pound or 40 inch 18-month toddler, because it’s not. Science shows us that it is anatomical development (which comes with age), not the height or weight, that makes a young child less at risk for catastrophic neck injuries in a crash when forward facing.

We have known for a long time that rear facing is safer than forward facing for every person, and especially for infants up until at least age 2. It’s nice to see state legislatures like California’s catching up to the research and helping nudge parents to keep their children as safe as possible in the car.  Be sure to see our list of the best convertible carseats for extended rear-facing!

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2017 Nuna Rava Review: The Fine Italian Suit of the Car Seat World

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2016-2017 Nuna Rava Convertible Carseat Review

nuna-rava-slate-sideLast December, I got a look at the Nuna Rava way back when it was just a prototype that Nuna was working on. As I put my hands on it, played with the different settings and installed it in a couple different cars, I had a feeling that I was looking at something really special in the car seat world. Every feature seemed to be well thought out, carefully designed and intentionally placed. It was clear even then with the very unfinished version of the Rava that the folks at Nuna had spent a prolonged period of time looking at what parents liked and didn’t like, and importantly, how the design of a car seat could improve safety.

Now that the final product is on the market and in my car, I can happily confirm my earlier suspicion- the Rava is something special in the convertible car seat market.

Weight and Height Limits
  • Rear-facing: 5-50 pounds(!) and 49 inches or less
  • Forward-facing: 25-65 pounds and 49 inches or less, suggested 2 years or older
Rava Overview
  • Rear-faces to 50 pounds, one of the highest limits available.nice touches
  • Extension panel at foot of the seat that can be used rear-facing for increased legroom or forward-facing for thigh support
  • 10 position headrest with no-rethread harness
  • 5 rear-facing and 5 forward-facing recline settings
  • No bubble, level indicator, or horizontal line for rear-facing recline—if it’s on one of the rear facing recline settings (and in a newborn, if the head isn’t falling forward), the recline angle is safe per Nuna
  • Infant cushion for use up to 11 pounds
  • All steel frame and steel-reinforced belt paths
  • Two collapsable, removable cupholders
  • Retractible side impact protection (SIP) pods
  • Cover over adjuster release button to keep little hands from loosening harness
  • Plush shoulder harness pads and hip harness pads
  • Buckle holders to keep harness out of way for loading and unloading
  • 2 crotch buckle positions, with longer length in outer position and easy push-and-slide adjustment

nuna-rava-slate nuna-rava-berry nuna-rava-caviar nuna-rava-indigo

Rava Measurementsnuna-rava-tall-setting
  • Lowest harness height: see Fit to Child section
  • Highest Harness height: 16″
  • External widest point: 19″
  • Total height with headrest fully extended: 25″
  • Crotch buckle width: 5.5″, 7″
  • Width of base: 14″
  • Depth of base: 14″
Installation

When creating this seat, Nuna wanted to decrease the widespread confusion over the new(ish) lower anchor weight limits and they decided to do this by encouraging a seatbelt installation for all kids and all cars. They did this with their “simply secure installation” using “true tension doors”—one for rear-facing and one for forward-facing. The seat comes with premium push-button lower anchor attachments, but multiple label discourage their use and encourage a seat belt installation.  So how does this work for the typical parent?

The New Diono Radius Infant Carseat (and more!) at ABC Kids Expo 2016!

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One of our early stops at the ABC Expo this year was the Diono booth. I think we were all hopeful that we’d see something new and exciting from a brand we have long trusted and we were not disappointed. In addition to their existing line up of seats (with a few changes that we’ll get to later), Diono is officially previewing their brand new rear facing only car seat, the Radius!

Before we dig in, I want to throw out a disclaimer that the folks at Diono were very clear that the Radius Rear-Facing Only Seat we were seeing was a prototype, so while we took some measurements and pictures, you should expect some minor tweaking of the product between now and the official release. The skeleton and the essential components of the seat will remain pretty consistent throughout the production process, but other less essential components are subject to change.

And now, the Radius!

radius

 

Diono Radius Specs and Features

  • Weight limits: 5-35 pounds
  • Height limits: Up to 35 inches, with 1 inch of shell above head. They said it “may” fit premature infants, but that is yet to be determined
  • No rethread harness with well padded headrest
  • Rigid lower anchors with red/green indicators
  • Seatbelt lock off
  • Active Deceleration System in the base that will dissipate crash forces on the base and seat by up to 30%
  • Indicator to show when the base has been involved in a significant enough collision to require replacement
  • Anti-rebound bar that is part of a full steel frame
  • Aluminum handle for improved side impact protection
  • Deep recline without bubbles or level lines
  • Energy absorbing foam lining the entire seat
  • Canopy extension that covers the entire seat with magnetic connectors at the bottom

Radius Measurements

  • Width of base at the belt path: 13.5″
  • Widest point of the base (roughly in the middle): 15″
  • Length of base: 24.5″
  • Width of the carrier at the widest point: 17.5″
  • Lowest harness height: 6″
  • Tallest harness height: 8.5″
  • Total shell height: 17.5″, with ~16″ being the seated height limit on the prototype.

laThe Radius has rigid lower anchor connectors that can extend outward to make attachment easy and a button to ratchet the base tightly into the vehicle seat. It also has a seat belt lock off will allow the seat to be installed without switching the retractor into locking mode or without use of a locking clip. The seat itself will weigh 9-10 pounds and the base will be a hefty 20 pounds because of the steel frame. While there isn’t a load leg on the current prototype and there won’t be on the first version to be released next year, the folks at Diono hinted pretty strongly that future versions will likely have some sort of load leg.

recline-comparisonThere aren’t any recline bubbles or level lines on the base- if the baby does not have adequate head control, the base should be fully reclined (and it is a DEEP recline!) and once baby has head control, they can be as upright as the base will allow. The recline is easily adjusted with a turn knob on the back of the base and can be adjusted with the seat installed. The upright recline is especially nice because with limits of 35 pounds or 35 inches, this is one of the longest lasting rear facing only seats on the market. (Note: the vehicle seat this is sitting on is completely flat, which makes it more reclined than you’ll likely see in any real life vehicle).

The Active Deceleration System, which is a pulley system within the base, is also pretty unique. It functions similarly to the safestop- in a crash, the pulley system will pull apart and allow the crash forces to be spread over a wider area, thus reducing the crash forces by up to 30%. And after a crash, the base has an easy to read crash indicator signaling that replacement is required. This is a great visual system that will make the decision to replace after a minor crash much easier for parents.

The base and the seat aren’t terribly compact and Diono is working on how to manage the potential for overhang in vehicles with shorter seat pans. They said the rules regarding overhang, which will likely be limited to <20%, will definitely be present and clearly described in the manual, but we (and Alanna at Diono) are also hopeful that a sticker on the base will be added to show at what point the overhang exceeds the recommendation.

The Radius will be available in Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby in April 2017 and widely in July 2017 for around $329. And great news for our neighbors to the north- the Radius will be coming to Canada as well!

Still within the realm of car seats, Diono is discontinuing the Pacifica and Olympia, but will be continuing forward with the Radians and with the Rainier and will be releasing some new covers for the Rainier in 2017.radian

They will also be phasing out the regular Monterey booster for the new Monterey XT booster. The Monterey XT is a blend of the Cambria bottom and the original Monterey back, and will come with lower anchors with dual pull straps, EPS foam lining and a dial on the back. The Monterey XT will have an MSRP of $99 and is coming soon.

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Diono is also releasing a stroller, the Diono Quantum, which will be compatible with the Radius, and with Maxi Cosi, Nuna and Cybex infant car seats. The stroller has all the things you would look for- an extendable handle, a simple fold with a carry handle and a one hand open, a “flip flop proof” brake, and a seat that can be transitioned easily from a basinet for newborns and infants under 10 pounds, to a typical stroller seat for children up to 50 pounds. The canopy is out of this world, we literally gasped when they expanded it fully. And of course there will be accessories for whatever climate you stroll in and several different fashions to fit your preferences.

stroller

Look for all these great new products and new fashions from Diono in 2017!