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HOT CARS Act Passes U.S. House

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Language from a bill known as the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (or HOT CARS Act) has been approved by the United States House of Representatives. The HOT CARS Act requires auto manufacturers to include an alarm reminding drivers to check the back seat of their vehicles, ideally leading to a decrease in the number of deaths caused by inadvertently leaving children in the back seat.

The HOT CARS Act was initially introduced in the Energy and Commerce Committee in June, but language from the bill was passed on September 6 as an amendment to the DECAL Act, which seeks to inform consumers about the capabilities and limitations of self-driving cars.

The amendment concerning children left in hot cars says that within two years of the bill becoming law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must issue a rule requiring automakers to include an alarm that will alert drivers to check the rear seat when they turn off the engine. Auto manufacturers would then have two years to comply with the rule.

Children dying in hot cars is a serious issue, and one that has been getting more attention lately. Some vehicle manufacturers, like General Motors, are already putting safeguards in place (as are some car seat companies, like Evenflo). This regulation would force other auto manufacturers to follow suit.

While this bill is a step in the right direction for protecting children from accidental deaths, there’s still a long way to go. First, the bill will need to pass the U.S. Senate. If it does, it will then need to be signed into law by a president who has signaled a resistance to new regulations.

If the bill does become law, the regulation will need to actually be enacted–a process that is often met with challenges, changes, and delays.

We have questions about how these proposed alarms will work. If an alarm chimes each time the car is turned off (as is suggested in the language of the bill), people are more likely to ignore it or otherwise tune it out, especially once they get used to hearing it. Falling into a routine is exactly the problem these alarms should be trying to solve; they shouldn’t be contributing to it. A system like GM’s, where the alarm sounds only if the back door had been opened and shut prior to the car moving, seems more likely to be effective since it has a better chance of catching people specifically when they have a child onboard.

Even under the best scenarios, this regulation is still years away from becoming reality. 

There are benefits and downfalls to relying on technology or gadgets to help keep caregivers from forgetting children in the car. People can always take precautions on their own, though. We recommend that people put an item they’ll need at their destination (like a phone, a purse, or a shoe) in the back seat so they’ll need to open that back door and see the child inside.

Legislation might eventually help, but it’s a long road.

Multimac: Too Good to be True?

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News of the Multimac has been ebbing and flowing on social media for years. It’s making a resurgence again—for understandable reasons—so we felt we should address it.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Multimac is a child restraint system that includes three or even four seats that are installed at the same time into a standard back seat. Various accessories allow the Multimac to accommodate children from birth to age 12, from rear-facing to seatbelt-ready. The four-seater Multimac means that people who previously would have needed an SUV or minivan (or would have needed to put one child up front in a sedan) can now fit four kids in the back of a standard car.

Does that sound too good to be true? Well, it is and it isn’t. The Multimac does appear to meet standards…in the United Kingdom. It does not meet U.S. standards, and therefore cannot be used in the United States. So, if you’re in Europe, the Multimac might be a great option. If you, like most of our readers, live in America, you’re sadly out of luck.

If you’re an American hoping that the Multimac will eventually be available here, don’t hold your breath. There’s currently no way for the Mulitmac to pass U.S. testing. For one, our standard requires child restraints to be installed with a seatbelt or LATCH. The Multimac is installed with bolts and straps, plus legs that extend to the floor. It would fail U.S. testing by virtue of not being able to be installed on our test sled (that has no floor) and therefore we don’t know how it would fare in terms of meeting injury criteria.

Now let’s talk about cost for a moment. A four-seater Multimac with two rear-facing seats is about £2,000. (That doesn’t include the other accessories you might need, but it’s a starting point.) That translates to about $2,500, which is a big chunk of change to drop on a car seat. On the other hand, that’s slightly less shocking when you consider you’re buying four car seats, and it’s probably a lot less expensive than upgrading to bigger car. So you have to keep it in perspective. (Of course, that doesn’t take into consideration the likely astronomical cost to ship it to the United States…plus the fact that it’s illegal to use here.)

Maybe someday U.S. standards will allow for testing of innovations like the Multimac, but change in federal regulations is typically verrrrry slow. Child passenger safety advocates have long encouraged changes, like adding a floor to the test sled to accommodate seats with load legs, but so far nothing has come of that. If you’d like to see changes, contact your elected U.S. representatives and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to tell them we need to update our standards.

And if you’re in the UK, have fun with your new seat!

Don’t Skimp on Safety When Traveling this Summer

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My family and I recently drove from Chicago to Disney World and back. Although some people might cringe at the thought of a family road trip of that length, we kind of like it. Plus, even factoring in hotels, gas, and extra meals, driving was cheaper than flying, and we didn’t have as many baggage restrictions.

As much as I enjoy road trips, I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel some trepidation each time we set out on one. I guess that goes with the territory of being a safety advocate who is all too aware of the dangers of car crashes. We do our best to be prepared, though.

Before this trip, my husband took our van in to have the tires rotated and inspected. We learned that we were close to needing to replace the tires. Due to a few unexpected house repairs, necessary appliance purchases, and lots of medical expenditures, the last thing we wanted was to spend more money on tires. We discussed holding off until after the trip. Assuming the recommendation was a conservative one, we even discussed not replacing the tires at all since we might trade the car in next year.

But the treads were getting close to being concerning, and ultimately my husband and I are both too safety conscious to take the risk, so we got the new tires.

A few days later we were driving through Georgia when we ran into some horrible storms south of Atlanta. These were among the worst storms I’ve ever driven in—the type where at times you can barely even see in front of you. I would have liked to pull off the road, but there were no safe opportunities. Instead we stayed with the flow of traffic (which was thankfully slow) and maintained a safe distance from the car ahead of us.

At one point we encountered a flooded section of interstate. We weren’t able to stop or swerve, so our only option was to drive through the enormous puddle. For a couple seconds, it was like being in a car wash: We could see absolutely nothing and could only hope that we wouldn’t hit the car in front of us (or get hit by the car behind us).

Thankfully no one crashed. After we took a few breaths, my husband said, “I’m really glad we got these new tires.” I can’t say for sure that things would have been different with our old ones, but I wouldn’t want to find out, either.

If you’re planning any road trips this summer, here are some guidelines to follow to ensure your trip is safe and pleasant.

  • Check your tires. (See? There was a reason for my story.) Check the tire pressure, check the treads. Have the tires rotated if they’re due, and invest in new ones if you need to.
  • Have your car serviced. Make sure it’s in prime operating condition before you hit the road.
  • Check for recalls.
  • Pack well. Avoid putting heavy luggage in the passenger area. If you have an open cargo area, put heavier items on the bottom and lighter items on top. Use cargo covers or tie-downs to help keep things in place. On long trips, it’s inevitable that you’ll have some books, toys, and electronics around the passengers, but try to keep items stored when they’re not being used.
  • Make sure everyone is properly restrained. Some people want to turn rear-facing kids forward-facing for long trips, but avoid that temptation. Besides being less safe, it’s less convenient. Kids are more likely to drop stuff when they’re forward-facing since they’re no longer sitting in a “bowl,” and their legs dangle uncomfortably and kick your seat. Plus, rear-facing kids are in a better position to sleep comfortably.
  • Use apps safely. Navigation apps like Waze can help alert you to hazards and unsafe road conditions. Be responsible with how you use them, though: It’s best if a passenger is in charge of anything app-related. We don’t want a distracted driver.
  • Avoid drowsy driving. Some people like driving at night so they can arrive sooner, they can avoid hotel costs, and so the kids will (ideally) sleep in the car. Unless you’re used to operating vehicles at night, though, this might not be the best idea. Fatigue is a real safety concern, especially on unfamiliar roads in nighttime conditions. Pay attention to fatigue during the day, too. Pull off if you get drowsy.
  • Take frequent breaks. I get the temptation to power through and just get there already, but taking breaks results in happier kids and refreshed adults (especially the driver). Stop for food or an exercise break every few hours or whenever the driver needs to. Frisbees, balls, and pocket kites can be fun ways to get out some energy at rest stops or parks, or just play tag or Simon Says.
  • Keep an emergency kit. Make sure you have things like water and snacks, bandaids, and a flashlight. We have something like this jump-starter/air compressor, which also includes 12-volt and USB outlets.

As you set out on your summer travels, have fun and stay safe.

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.