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Kioma: The Infant Carseat of the Future?

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As we were walking the halls of the 2017 JPMA Baby Show in Anaheim, something caught our eye. It was a vaguely egg-shaped contraption that looked like a carseat but was so different from a carseat that we weren’t sure. We went over for a closer look and were introduced to Kioma, an innovative rear-facing-only infant seat.

We had a nice long chat with Kioma’s Christopher Gay about the seat. Right now the seats are still early prototypes, so things can still change, but Gay is confident they’re close to being able to move to production. Here’s what we know so far.

The seats are made of carbon fiber, meaning they’re extremely lightweight. The carrier weighs 5.5 pounds, although it felt even lighter than that.

The unique handle felt ergonomically correct and less awkward to carry than a standard infant seat, although we weren’t able to test with an actual baby. The engineers designed the seat to keep the center of mass under the handle so the seat won’t tip forward even with heavier babies in it. The handle is in a permanently fixed position for a reason: To eliminate moving parts, which can sometimes wind up as safety concerns if they break/fail.

The seats have been crash-tested (there are belt guides on the carrier that are hard to see in some photos), and Gay says the carrier performs very well. We saw a video of one test, and there appeared to be very little downward rotation. (Downward rotation occurs in a frontal impact when the child restraint moves down and toward the front of the car. Reducing downward rotation is a good thing.) That said, they’re still deciding what kind of base to use. They have tested with some and are still determining the best route.

The height and weight limits are also still being determined. Gay said the seat will fit up to an average 18-month-old child, and said that height will be a greater factor than weight in determining the limits. The instructions will include a description telling parents how high up the shell their child’s head can go. We recommended also including an indicator on the seat itself.

The Kioma prototype has three sets of harness slots, and the harness is a regular rethread (again to reduce the number of moving parts and the weight of the seat). It’s possible the number, position, or location of harness slots could change before the seat is released.

The interior of the seat is smooth and free of the crevices that often make it difficult to clean out messes. Kioma also features an anti-skid bottom, which should help both with a baseless installation in the car and with stability when the carrier is outside the car.

There will be available sunshades in the form of a “sleeve” that fits over the seat. The company didn’t have samples available at the show, so we weren’t able to see what they’ll look like. Currently the fabric on the seats has a slick nylon-type feel, although that might also change. The final seat will have an infant insert and possibly other soft goods as well. (The current fabric is easy to wipe down, but we recommended an insert made of a fabric that might be softer or more breathable.)

As for fitting in cars, the seat appears to be rather long, but that might be a bit of an optical illusion. The seat was initially designed to fit in smaller European cars, so we’re hopeful it will fit in a range of American cars, too.

The company is also working on stroller compatibility since they know that’s an important factor. We recommended making the carrier compatible with Maxi Cosi adapters to give the widest range of options.

A couple fun facts: On an aesthetic note, the seat features seven Fibonacci curves. The name “Kioma” was made up by Gay’s daughter and doesn’t actually have any particular meaning.

Kioma is based in Dallas, and the seats were designed and made in the USA (and will continue to be).

Now let’s address the elephant in the room: Pricing. Currently there are three different price points: $1,000, $1,200, and $2,500. The most expensive seat has the completely carbon fiber shell. The two lower priced seats have a carbon fiber shell but an aluminum handle. The $200 difference pertains to outward cosmetic appearance (“naked” carbon fiber exterior vs. painted). At those prices this seat won’t be for everyone, but this is designed for parents looking for an ultra-premium product.

Right now, Kioma is confident the seats will be ready to begin the production process in September. Given the number of factors that are still unknown, plus the number of regulatory hoops that will need to be jumped through, we’re not sure that’s an entirely realistic timeframe.

This might not be a “traditional” seat, but that’s what makes it intriguing. We’re excited to see how this design plays out and where it goes in the future.

Cheap Portable Carseats: Don’t Believe the Hype

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A few years ago we brought you a “review” of an illegal foreign car seat to explain why people shouldn’t buy them. Seats like these would pop up now and then but were mostly off our radar for a long time…until recently. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen dozens of references to them, so we felt it was time for another post, this time debunking many of the claims and explaining the various ways these seats do not meet federal safety regulations.

What is it?

One problem in determining exactly what’s wrong with these seats is that there are so many different versions of them, each with slightly different descriptions. It’s also impossible to actually contact a manufacturer to ask questions because no manufacturer information is listed anywhere (which is, in itself, a violation of U.S. standards…but we’ll get to that in a minute).

First, we need to determine what category of child restraint these things are. They’re marketed as a harnessed car seat: Attach the restraint to your seat, buckle in your kid, and go! The thing is, harnessed child restraints are required to be installed with either a seatbelt or with LATCH. This “restraint” doesn’t include lower anchor straps or a tether strap, and it’s “installed” with some straps and rings, not with a seatbelt at all. So if it is, indeed, meant to act as a 5-point child restraint, it’s automatically out of compliance because it doesn’t install with LATCH or a seatbelt.

Sometimes the listings and/or paltry instructions that come with the seats also say that you also should/must buckle the seatbelt around the child. In that case, the seat is actually functioning like a booster seat or a wearable harness, both of which have their own requirements that these products do not meet.

Since inconsistencies keep us from actually determining what the heck these things even are, let’s explore some other issues.

Either Way, There are Problems

From a regulatory standpoint, it matters whether this thing is meant to be used with a seatbelt or not. From a practical standpoint, there are problems either way.

This crash test, which we shared in our other review, shows what happens when the seat is used without a seatbelt:

I don’t have a crash test of the seat used with the seatbelt, but I do have a video showing the likely issues this seat has in restraining a child, with or without one:

Placement in the car

What the ads won’t tell you—but the “instructions” might—

Teens Create Road Safety PSAs

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For the past three years, the National Road Safety Foundation and the Chicago Auto Show have sponsored a contest called Drive Safe Chicago for teenagers to create Public Service Announcements about distracted driving. This year’s winner, 17-year-old Hannah Christy, created a PSA about drowsy driving, something teens pulling all-nighters might be familiar with.

Christy and the other finalists worked with professional film crews to create their spots, and Christy’s will be featured later this year on TV stations around the country.

Christy and the other finalists worked with professional film crews to create their spots, and Christy’s will be featured later this year on TV stations around the country.

Distracted driving kills more than 3,300 people each year. People typically think of “distracted driving” as “cell-phone use,” but it can encompass much more, as Christy demonstrated in her PSA. Last year’s winner focused on a teen driver whose car was packed with loud, distracting friends.

The Drive Safe Chicago campaign allows teens to offer a fresh voice in a field usually dominated by adults, and other teens will likely respond better to messages coming from their peers.

The National Road Safety Foundation has also sponsored a PSA contest in conjunction with the Atlanta Auto Show, and will be teaming with the Los Angeles Auto Show this year. There’s still time to enter the LA contest, so if you live around there and have teenagers interested in safety, see if they want to enter. Maybe your kid can save someone’s life.

Review: 2017 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab – Haul Your Cargo and Your Kids

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People don’t often think of pickup trucks as “family vehicles,” but there’s a lot to be said for them if you look for the right features. There’s a wide range of trucks out there, from those with no back seat (standard cab), to those with an unusable back seat (many extended cabs), to those with back seats so large you could camp in them. The former might be tough to use with kids, but the latter can be great, allowing you to safely haul your kids and have plenty of room for cargo and/or horsepower for towing.

I recently had the opportunity to drive a 2016/2017 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab SLT for a week, and I could easily see it being someone’s family car.

Vehicle Features and Driving

We’ll get to the carseat stuff in a minute, but first let’s explore the Sierra’s features and what it’s like to drive it.

The Sierra gets a 5-star overall rating in the government crash tests. That includes 5-star ratings for driver and passenger frontal crash, driver and passenger side crash, and a 4-star rating for rollovers. It receives ratings of Good in most IIHS categories, with the exception of the small overlap test (Moderate), headlights (Acceptable), and LATCH ease of use (Poor—we’ll get to this later). Regarding the headlight category, only one large pickup rated better than the Sierra—the other trucks all got marginal or poor ratings.

The Sierra comes with the safety features one would expect: Antilock breaks, a full range of airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, etc. The model I drove had some extra safety features, including a forward collision alert system, parking assist, and a lane departure assist system.

The lane departure feature was really neat. I’ve driven a lot of cars that alert you when you’re drifting out of a lane, but this takes it one step further. If the vehicle detects that you’re leaving a lane (while not actively steering and with no turn signal on), it gently turns the steering wheel on its own to keep you in the lane. This is a very subtle process, and I had to test it several times to fully understand what it was doing, but it really did help keep the truck where it was supposed to be, in large part because the steering wheel moving on its own definitely grabs your attention.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a “big car” person. The bigger the vehicle, the more I worry I’m going to run into something, especially when parking it. It’s the kind of fear that subsides over time, but I was still a bit nervous in the mere week I drove the Sierra. That said, I didn’t run into anything, nor did I have any trouble driving or maneuvering the truck.

Many pickup trucks, especially at higher trim levels, can look and feel like luxury cars inside, and that’s true of the Sierra, too. But make no mistake: It’s a pickup truck, and it feels like one when driving. It took a good depression on the gas pedal to get it going, and the acceleration took a while. That’s probably not surprising, but I drove the Sierra right after testing out the 2016 Subaru Forester, which accelerates like mad with just a feather’s touch, so it seemed like a big contrast. The ride was a bit bumpier than what you’d experience in a typical sedan, but again, that comes with the territory. Overall it was actually smoother than I expected it to be.

The Sierra definitely felt sturdy, and once I got used to the way it drove it was pretty fun, even for someone who gets nervous with big vehicles. I even parked it somewhat decently! (I’ve written about my parking woes in the past.)

Carseats and Kids