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Don’t Skimp on Safety When Traveling this Summer


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?


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


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


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.