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Clek Q-Tether: Additional Safety for Clek Convertibles

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The Rear-Facing Tether Is Back—Aussie Style

Clek recently introduced a “new” old safety concept: the Australian-style rear-facing tether. It’s been a few years since rear-facing tethering has been in vogue, but back then, it was the Swedish-style of tethering with which everyone was familiar—where, on only certain carseats, the top tether was anchored to the vehicle’s front seat track when rear-facing. Aussie-style RF tethering was available on Britax carseats because they had (still do!) a V-shaped dual tether that wrapped around the carseat and attached to the vehicle’s tether anchor. Aussie-style tethering is still popular in . . . Australia and Clek is bringing it back to North America to work in conjunction with anti-rebound bars (ARBs) to limit motion during a crash and manage energy.

What makes Aussie-style tethering Aussie-some (sorry, how could I *not* do that?) is that it keeps the carseat from rotating down toward the floor of the vehicle, similar in function to a load leg. In turn, the child stays more upright during a frontal crash, which is the most common type of crash, so that the carseat can absorb those crash forces, protecting the child’s head, neck, and spine.

The Q-Tether is available for $19.99 as an accessory for use with all unexpired Foonf and Fllo models. It limits the ability of the carseat to rotate down toward the floor of the vehicle in a frontal crash, performing similarly to a load leg or to using a Euro belt path which is found on more and more rear-facing only infant seats, including Clek’s Liing. When forward energy is limited, rebound energy, which is typically 1/3 the energy of the initial crash, is reduced as well. What does this mean for your child? The less bouncing around in a crash, the safer she’ll be.

There are 2 parts to the Q-Tether. The part that attaches to the tether anchor has a metal splitter plate on the other end—the splitter plate is typically what a harness attaches to on the back of a carseat. The other piece is a long strap with a loop on each end that wraps around the carseat, is threaded through the unused forward-facing lockoffs, and is attached to the splitter plate. Owners of Clek convertibles are used to “assembling” their carseats for installation (adding the ARB, putting adding the RF base onto the Foonf, putting the seat panel back on after RF installation), so the process of installing the Q-Tether will only add a few more minutes.

Tips to Make the Q-Tether Installation Process Go Smoothly:
  • Install your Clek convertible rear-facing
  • Open both forward-facing lockoffs first
  • Tighten the harness. If the harness is loose, you may accidentally thread the Q-Tether strap underneath the harness on the back of the seat.
  • Make sure the long strap is loosened all the way. If it isn’t fully slack, you may not be able to attach it to the splitter plate, depending on your vehicle’s head restraint design.
  • Additional hands always help because you’re trying to wrap a long strap around a carseat and through 2 lockoffs. Attach the non-adjuster side to the splitter plate first, thread it through the lockoff, pull taut, then close the lockoff. That will hold the strap in place and you can then thread the strap through the next lockoff.
Getting Kids In and Out with the Q-Tether

Alright. It’s the big question and I’m saving it for last. You’re looking at this tether that completely goes around the carseat and thinking, “I have to thread my thrashing kid through this tether, then try to get the harness on him.” Probably similar to putting an outfit on your cat. This is why the Q-Tether is attached with loops on each end of the long strap: the adjuster goes on the door side so it gets loosened and tightened each time your child is placed in the seat.

In my Tesla Model X, I had typical tether issues with the Q-Tether sliding off the shoulder of my vehicle seat when I went to tighten the strap. You can mitigate this by pulling the strap in toward the inside of the car instead of pulling the strap towards yourself; if your child is older, they can pull the strap taut. In my Tesla Model 3, the tether anchor is on the parcel shelf so it’s like any other sedan, except that Tesla wants the splitter plate off to the outside of the head restraint on the outboard positions (check your vehicle owner’s manual if you have a non-movable head restraint). I had no issues with my 2011 Acura MDX.

Model X

Model 3

Acura MDX

If you’ve installed your carseat with the seat belt, you will have a couple of belts to keep your kid’s feet out of when you place them in the seat. If your child likes autonomy (and you have the time), they can climb in by themselves, of course. Our 3-yr old model had no problems climbing into the Foonf in the Acura MDX from the outside and it would have been even easier climbing in from the center seat (Q-Tether adjuster would have gone on the inside if that were his normal spot to climb in). It does take some maturity for that to happen, though. He tried to pull the Q-Tether strap tight, but wasn’t quite able to get the last bit of slack out, despite having a little bit of practice. If the Foonf were his daily ride, I’m sure he’d have no problems whatsoever.

You can’t argue with safety and the Q-Tether offers an extra measure of safety. It’s awesome that Clek is using simple tools to help parents who want to provide an extra bit of energy management should they be in a crash. And it’s great that Clek is providing this safety tool retroactively to owners who already own Clek seats so their kids can benefit from it too!

Are You Driving An Automated Vehicle?

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You May Have An Automated Car and Not Even Know It

When many of us think of an automated vehicle, we think of a futuristic car that drives itself without a steering wheel; we tell it where to go and it magically takes us there safely. There’s a bit of wonderment and fear thrown in since all the human control is taken out of the equation. We’re supposed to sit back and relax, perhaps read our phones or meditate. While that vision may seem far off, it’s actually not. Fully automated vehicle pilot programs have been in place in several cities around the United States for a few years now with mixed success and GM has petitioned NHTSA to deploy vehicles without steering wheels or other human controls this year. But these kinds of vehicles are highly specific and not what the Average Joe or Josephina comes into contact every day when they drive to work or run errands. What is automation in today’s car?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines levels of automation and that’s important when it comes to describing what’s available in the average vehicle because the actual driver assistance technology names used by vehicles manufacturers is very proprietary and confusing (gotta love creative marketers!). Most of us have cruise control, which falls into Level 1 longitudinal control (lengthwise control). Adaptive cruise control, in which your speed will vary based on the distance of the car in front of you, also is a Level 1 automation. Bet you didn’t realize you had an automated car!

Level 0: No automation; this includes blind spot warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning

Level 1: Lateral automation, such as lane centering (lateral control, or side to side control), OR longitudinal automation, such as adaptive cruise control (speed and distance control); this level is basic speed and steering

Level 2: Sustained automation of both lateral AND longitudinal controls; this level is the car driving itself, but the human driver must have hands on the steering wheel and be ready to take over at any given moment

Level 3: Very similar to Level 2, but the vehicle monitors the surrounding environment; human driver must be ready to take over at any time when the automation system requests

Level 4: Driving is performed by automation system and no human is required; vehicle will pull itself over if something happens and is usually limited in some manner, such as speed

Level 5: Truly automated with no human intervention whatsoever; does not exist yet

Vehicle manufacturers like to give their automation packages slick names. It can be confusing for consumers and dangerous because they think their vehicles are far more capable of doing things than they really are. Take Tesla’s Autopilot, for example. Autopilot makes it sound like the system drives itself like a plane on autopilot: just punch in some coordinates, sit back, relax, and let the car do all the work. It couldn’t be further from the truth. While using Autopilot, I’ve had my Model X veer off the interstate as it follows lane markings towards exits I didn’t want to take, accelerate into stopped traffic it didn’t “see,” and drive like only a grandpa could due to the adaptive cruise control. I don’t blame the technology—I expect it because it’s relatively new technology and far from perfect. I only use Autopilot on long trips on open highways because Teslas are tiring to drive; I honestly don’t know how people can fall asleep on city freeways and stay alive in them, and a number of them haven’t. There’s a theory on why Autopilot can’t see red firetrucks parked in freeway lanes (read about it here)—at least 2 people have been killed by slamming into firetrucks.

Other manufacturers have equally confusing names for their technologies: Nissan uses ProPilot Assist, Volkswagen/Audi and Acura use Traffic Jam Assist, Cadillac uses Super Cruise, and BMW uses Driving Assistant Plus. All of these automation systems, including Tesla’s Autopilot, are Level 2 (sorry to burst your bubble, Tesla fans, Autopilot is not higher up). All of these automation systems have adaptive cruise control and lane centering, but Cadillac’s Super Cruise adds a hands-free ability and BMW’s Driving Assistant Plus adds camera features.

Adaptive cruise control has been in vehicles around the world for well over 20 years, but if you’ve owned a vehicle in the US in the past 7-10 years, especially a higher end model, you’ve likely had one with it. Technology in vehicles is moving so quickly that we’re seeing these features start out in the more expensive cars and move to the more economical ones very rapidly. Automated vehicles with varying levels of automation are on our streets and we’re having to interact with them more and more each day. Knowing that they’re out there and what features they have make us more informed and safer drivers.

Side Impacts and Booster Seats: A Scary New Combination?

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Child Passenger Safety Technicians teach parents “best practice” when it comes to keeping their kids safe. If there’s going to be a crash, we want the best possible outcome. It’s long been an issue for CPSTs that some belt-positioning booster seats have minimum weight limits of 30 lbs. because it encourages parents to put smaller, often younger children in them. ProPublica released an article today on side-impact testing at Evenflo that shows why we need a national side-impact testing standard and why best practice is so important for safety.

Child restraint manufacturers perform their own safety testing, both for regulatory purposes and for research purposes. Back in the early 2000s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was required to design a side impact test. That never came to fruition, so manufacturers who do side-impact testing created their own “standard” based off this design (see our article here). Side-impact crash testing, like any crash testing, is scary to watch. It’s the nature of the beast, so to speak, that a body will wrap around the seat belt during a crash, so seeing footage like what ProPublica provided is terrifying but not out of the ordinary.

By having their own tests, manufacturers can use marketing terms such as “Side Impact Tested,” “ProtectPlus Engineered™,” “Air Protect®,” and so on. If you’re an educated consumer, you’ll know to look past what might be no more than a marketing ploy to find the seat that fits your child, child’s developmental level, and vehicle best.

Let’s say you’re in the market for a new restraint and you’re not sure if you need a harnessed seat or a booster seat. Your child is preschool-aged (3-5) and in that 30-40 lbs. range. That’s a really tough age and weight range! You want them to be a big kid and have some independence, but really, their bodies are still small, and their impulse control is often underdeveloped. Best practice says a harnessed seat is the best choice for them. NHTSA and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend that a child outgrow the weight and height limits of a harnessed carseat before moving to a booster seat. Since most harnessed restraints have weight limits over 50 lbs. now, it’s usually not an issue for many kids to remain harnessed until they reach an age where they’re mature enough to sit well in a booster seat.

Booster seats seem like an easy choice for many parents and caregivers because they’re often lighter than harnessed carseats, easy to move from vehicle to vehicle, give kids independence in buckling (eventually!), and are the last step in “babyhood.” However, that last step is a step down in safety if you make the move too soon for your child. Regardless of the brand of booster you select, make sure that your child:

  1. Has the maturity to sit still in the seat belt with correct fit for a whole trip
  2. Is over the minimum required weight—40 lbs. is a good minimum guideline if you’re still unsure
  3. Meets the minimum age requirement for the booster—at least age 4 for some, although we like kids to be older than that for maturity reasons.

If your child has outgrown their convertible carseat but still isn’t mature enough for a booster seat, a combination harness/booster seat is the answer. This type of child restraint typically has a harness with higher harness slots than convertible carseats, then converts to a booster seat later on. Our favorites include:

Britax Grow With You

Chicco MyFit and MyFit LE

Graco Nautilus SnugLock

Remember, no booster can protect a child in every type of side-impact crash, especially severe ones. This is even more likely if the child is leaning forward, has squirmed out of the belt or even if their head is tilted forward to look at a device at the time of the crash. Any of these issues can cause the child to lose the benefit of the side impact wings and other side-impact features on any brand or model of booster seat. That is why we recommend using a 5-point harness system over a booster until at least 40 pounds AND at least 4 years old, preferably longer. How much longer often depends on the maturity of the child.

Also keep in mind that although there are no guarantees when it comes to crash protection, the rate of child deaths in motor vehicle crashes has dropped significantly over the past several decades. This is due in part to advances in vehicle design and technology, and also due to continuing innovations in child restraint systems. Properly using child restraints according to best practice gives your child a huge advantage.