News Archive

New Virginia Law Requires Rear-Facing Until 2…Sort Of

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More and more states are adopting laws requiring children to remain in rear-facing carseats until at least 2 years old. The most recent is Virginia, which has a new law going into effect July 1, 2019.

Although Virginia’s law will require kids to rear-face until 2, a clause in the law makes it a bit less potent than many others: Kids can forward-face as soon as they meet the height and weight minimums prescribed by the seat. Since most seats have 20- or 22-pound minimums to forward-face, this law doesn’t change much in a practical sense.

It’s important to note, though, that some seats do have a 2-year minimum to ride forward-facing, and since Virginia requires kids to be properly secured, people with those seats couldn’t forward-face before then…although that would have been true under the existing law as well.

The law also provides exemptions for medical reasons, but people must carry documentation from a physician explaining why the child can’t use a carseat as required by law.

Fines for violating the law remain the same: $50 for the first offense and up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

Rear-facing beyond a year doesn’t need to be expensive. Most people will need a convertible car seat anyway, and there are many inexpensive models that can keep kids rear-facing for a long time. Virginia also has a robust Low-Income Safety Seat Program to provide seats to those who qualify.

Although Virginia’s law lacks the teeth of some other rear-facing-until-2 laws, hopefully it will help people understand the importance of rear-facing and will encourage them to do so.

You can read the full text of Virginia’s child restraint law here and a listing of all state laws at the IIHS website.

LATCH Is Getting Easier to Use: 2019 IIHS Vehicle LATCH Ratings

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We all know that many carseats are difficult to use, even for those who take on the daunting task of reading the manual first. Manufacturers do make advances over the years with new and improved designs that make carseats easier to install and use. One such innovation is LATCH, Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren, which has now been around for almost 20 years.

Original designs on both carseats and vehicles made LATCH difficult to install, and often even more difficult to uninstall. In particular, automobile manufacturers often did little to improve the location and visibility of their lower anchors and top tethers. Deeply hidden and angled lower anchors were common, and top tether anchors were sometimes too close, too far or extended to odd placements in the roof of an SUV or wagon.

  

In 2015, the IIHS added a rating system for LATCH to their automobile safety evaluations.  This simple addition has provided motivation for automakers to improve their designs.  According to the 2019 LATCH Ratings from IIHS:

Nearly three-quarters of 2019 vehicles have LATCH hardware that rates good or acceptable for ease of use, as automakers continue making improvements that help parents and caregivers properly install child restraints.

The results mark a shift from 2015, when IIHS launched its LATCH ease-of-use ratings. At that time, a majority of new vehicles rated poor or marginal.

Today, 21 vehicles earn the top rating of good+, 33 are rated good, and 88 rate acceptable. Forty-nine vehicles are marginal, and only four earn a poor rating. Among automakers, Toyota and Subaru are standouts for LATCH ease of use, while U.S. automakers lag behind. Installation in pickups remains tricky, compared with other types of vehicles.

We applaud the IIHS and automobile companies for improving the state of LATCH to make carseats easier to install!

Photo Credit: IIHS

For the technically inclined, in the IIHS rating system, LATCH hardware is rated “Good” if it meets the following criteria:

  • The lower anchors are no more than ¾ inch deep within the seat bight — the place where the seatback meets the bottom seat cushion — or slightly deeper if there is open access around them.
  • The lower anchors are easy to maneuver around. This is defined as having a clearance angle greater than 54 degrees.
  • The force required to attach a standardized tool representing a child seat connector to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds.
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or in the middle of the seatback. They shouldn’t be at the very bottom of the seatback, under the seat, on the ceiling or on the floor.
  • The area where the tether anchor is found doesn’t have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor. If other hardware is present, then the tether anchor must have a clear label located within 3 inches of it.

To earn a Good rating, two LATCH positions in the second row must meet all five criteria, and a third tether anchor must meet both tether criteria.

The Good+ rating is for vehicles that meet the criteria for a good rating and provide additional LATCH-equipped seating positions! For a two-row vehicle, that means having a 3rd Good or Acceptable LATCH seating position. The third position may use either dedicated anchors or anchors borrowed from other positions. In many vehicles that have lower anchors in the second-row outboard seating positions, LATCH can be used in the center position by “borrowing” one anchor from each side. Some vehicles have one dedicated anchor for the center seat and rely on a borrowed anchor for the other side.

Good+ Rating for 2018-19 Subaru Legacy

For a three-row vehicle to earn a Good+ rating, it must have one additional good or acceptable LATCH position (without borrowing) and tether anchors in ALL rear seating positions! The additional tether anchors must meet at least one of the two tether anchor criteria. If the vehicle has a second-row center seating position, it must have good or acceptable LATCH there (with or without borrowing).

Unfortunately, pickup trucks continue to be problematic. Currently, there are no pickups that earn a good rating. Only a few pickups earn an acceptable rating, and most are rated marginal. The problem is the tether anchors. In most pickups, the carseat’s tether strap must be routed through a loop behind the head restraint and then attached to another loop or anchor, typically in an adjacent seating position. It’s VERY confusing!

Tethering single carseat in Ram 1500 Crew Cab

“When we’ve done studies observing people installing child restraints, we’ve seen that the tether anchors in pickups are a real point of confusion,” Jermakian says. “We’re continuing to work with manufacturers to come up with solutions to this issue.”

Here at CarseatBlog, we would welcome any improvement to the current tether strap routing systems in most pickup trucks. There HAS to be a better way to overcome the challenge of creating more distance between the top of the carseat and the tether anchor attachment point in the vehicle. In the meantime, we do applaud Toyota for adding a diagram to the loop of webbing, so at least it draws attention to itself and provides a clue that it’s supposed to be used for something!

Tether loop in 2017 Toyota Tundra

 

Updated Consumer Reports Convertible Car Seat Ratings

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Back in late 2015, Consumer Reports released it’s first round of Convertible Car Seat Ratings based on it’s newer crash testing protocol.  We published an article about their testing and ratings at the time: https://carseatblog.com/36420/

Britax Boulevard ClickTight

Since then, they have added and updated a few models in their ratings.  The latest Britax ClickTight convertible models, Boulevard, Advocate and Marathon, now top their list in overall score and receive a “BEST” crash protection rating.  Some models like the Nuna Rava and Graco Extend2Fit were not tested in the original report.  Both have since been tested and receive “BETTER” crash protection ratings.  Also, updated versions of the Britax “G4.1” models have improved their crash protection ratings from “BASIC” to “BETTER”, they are now called the Britax Emblem and Allegiance.

For subscribers, the updated ratings can be found here: https://www.consumerreports.org/products/convertible-car-seat/ratings-overview/

We also discuss their latest round of testing for combination harness/booster car seats here: https://carseatblog.com/47321/

The Safest Combination Carseats? New Crash Protection Ratings from Consumer Reports

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Topping the Combo Seat Ratings from Consumer Reports are Graco Nautilus SnugLock, Evenflo Maestro Sport, Chicco MyFit LE and Cosco Highback Booster

Five years ago, Consumer Reports implemented a new, more rigorous crash test for carseats and started releasing their ratings to subscribers. CR’s goal in creating the new test wasn’t to recreate the wheel. We know every carseat on the market here in the U.S. must be able to pass a basic frontal crash test (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213), therefore we consider all carseats on the market to be “safe” because they can all pass this baseline test. However, we also know that all carseats are NOT created equal and it would be naive to assume that they all provide exactly the same levels of protection.

Consumer Reports set out to find which seats provide additional margins of safety, above and beyond FMVSS 213, and so they developed their crash test to be more rigorous than the federal standards. Their crash test ratings scale will indicate a “BASIC,” “BETTER,” or “BEST” rating to indicate how well the child restraint performed as compared with the rest of the seats in that “peer group” category. One main focus of this new crash test is head protection, since head injuries are very common in crashes, even among properly restrained children.

Source: Consumer Reports Video

The seats tested in this round are considered “combination” seats (a.k.a, harness booster, harness-2-booster or toddler/booster seats). Combination seats are forward-facing only seats that have a 5-point harness but can also be used as a booster once your child outgrows the harness. Combination seats are “Stage 3” seats, most appropriate for preschool and school-age children who have outgrown their rear-facing convertible seats.

 

We were already aware that there were issues with certain combination seats that they tested in this round. The Britax Frontier ClickTight Harness-2-Booster, Britax Pioneer Harness-2-Booster, Cosco Finale DX, and Harmony Defender 360 all experienced some sort of structural damage during this very challenging crash test. Please see our previous article on the subject for more detailed information on what went wrong during testing of these seats. Now that we have the full ratings, we know that the Graco Atlas was also downgraded to a BASIC Rating after experiencing some structural damage during this test.

All of Consumer Reports’ crash testing is performed at an independent, outside testing facility. The test utilizes a contemporary vehicle seat (2010 Ford Flex 2nd row seat) with a floor below it, unlike the government test which has a 70’s era back seat bench with no floor. There’s a “blocker plate” (pictured right) installed in front of the test seat to simulate the front seat in a vehicle. The blocker plate is intended to recreate the interaction that happens in real life crashes when the child (or a rear-facing carseat) interacts with the back of the front seat. In addition, the speed of this test is set at 35 mph (instead of 30 mph which is standard in FMVSS testing). Those who follow vehicle ratings will recognize the 35 mph speed as the same speed used to crash new vehicles in the NCAP program. CR’s new crash test applies 36% more energy to carseats than their old test protocol and a more severe test results in a greater distinction among carseat performance.

In this round, Consumer Reports crash tested 23 combination seat models with various dummy sizes, using LATCH or a 3-point lap/shoulder seatbelt as required depending on the weight of the dummy being used. Several combination models that received a “BEST” rating for crash protection are also some of our favorite budget-friendly seats, the Evenflo Maestro Sport and Evenflo Evolve/Transitions/SafeMax.

 

In addition to the Crash Protection Rating, Consumer Reports gives each model an overall numeric score. This score is based on the Crash Protection Rating plus other factors, such as ease-of-use and fit-to-vehicle in various modes.

The new Graco Nautilus SnugLock LX was the top overall performer in terms of their overall score. Here at CarseatBlog, we agree with this assessment. The new Nautilus SnugLock LX is an awesome combination seat with excellent features and it deserves its place at the top of the ratings even though it received a BETTER crash protection score (not a BEST rating as we would have preferred to see). Still, a BETTER rating for crash protection in this very demanding test is perfectly acceptable in our opinion.  The SnugLock LX has also been one of CarseatBlog’s Recommended Carseats and an Editors’ Pick.

On a separate note, we feel the need to caution our readers that the combination seat with the second-highest overall rating is a seat that we would never recommend under normal circumstances. Although we’re happy to see any seat perform well, the Cosco Highback Booster Car Seat is not a bargain for most families despite the low price tag. The Cosco Highback Booster seat is only rated up to 40 pounds with the 5-point harness and most toddlers outgrow it even before they reach that weight because the top harness slot height is so low. If you need to replace it after a year because your preschooler outgrew it, then it wasn’t really a bargain – know what I mean? If you’re on a limited budget and looking at combination seats for kids who are at least 2 years old, you’d be much better served by the similarly rated Evenflo Maestro Sport which is a lot taller and rated to 50 lbs. with the harness.

Subscribers to Consumer Reports can see the complete ratings for all car seats HERE.