Safety Archive

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.

Traumatic Brain Injuries: A Different Kind of Child Safety Awareness

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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and although there are many injury awareness causes that are near and dear to my heart, none are quite as personal as brain injury awareness. I am hoping I can use our story, though not one about car seats, to help keep other kids safe and to keep families from going through what we went through.

When my oldest son Elijah was 10 months old, my husband had a conference out of town and Elijah and I tagged along to get out of our house for a bit. Elijah was crawling at that point, but not yet walking and while our hotel room was generally cleanish, whenever he crawled on the ground he came back to us with dirty hands and feet. I was a first-time parent and perhaps a bit above overly-anxious, and so to keep him from getting dirty or sick, a lot of our time was spent on the bed.

On the last day of the trip, Elijah and I had a few hours to kill before my husband returned from his last meeting. I don’t remember how it started, but we were playing a sort of game where Eli would throw his pacifier off the bed and then I’d grab it and give it back to him. I was never away from his side even for a moment and while in hindsight this wasn’t a great idea, in the moment, it really didn’t ping my danger radar.

And then just like all the times before, he threw his pacifier over the edge of the bed, but as I bent down to get it, he followed and crawled head first off the bed. The bed was about 3 feet tall and the flooring was exceptionally hard (we were on the ground floor). When I picked him up, I knew something was wrong. He couldn’t or wouldn’t hold his head up. He was barely conscious and obviously not okay.

We went by ambulance to the hospital where he got neck x-rays, which were blessedly clear. I’ll spare some of the details but we were released from that hospital and told that he was fine. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t fine.

As the day progressed, Elijah just was not himself and then began vomiting profusely. He had thrown up at the earlier emergency room, but he was one of those babies who threw up a lot and the doctor dismissed it as being upset. The second hospital we went to pulled us back immediately, did a stat CT scan and it showed a bleed around my baby’s brain. A traumatic brain injury.

We spent the next several days in the hospital, monitoring Elijah, managing his pain and nausea and watching for seizures (of which he had two, but thankfully he never had another). It was scary and stressful beyond words.

For months we watched and waited to see what the long term ramifications might be. His neurosurgeon said there was no way to know if he might have deficits as he grew, which seemed to prolong the nightmare indefinitely.

It will be 6 years later this month since this happened and Elijah is happy and healthy and thriving. He has had some fine motor deficits that may or may not be related to his injury, but you would never in a million years know that he once had a ring of blood around half his brain. We got lucky and we know it. (We also got great medical care at the second hospital and we are forever grateful for it.)

So this March, I’d like to take a second to implore you not to put babies on high surfaces. I can’t tell you how many threads I’ve read on parenting websites about babies falling off beds and how “it happens to everyone” and, well, it just doesn’t have to. Babies do not belong on elevated surfaces. Elijah was inches away from me when he fell and if we’d been on the floor instead of on the bed, it never would’ve happened.

Babies belong on the floor, for their development, and for their safety. Please don’t leave them on beds or changing tables or any elevated surfaces. There’s no convenience that is worth the risk to your child.

Having A Baby? Here Are the Carseat Basics You Need to Know

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Carseat 101

pg hwYou’ve peed on the stick and found out you’re pregnant. Yay! (Or not. Who am I to say?) You’ve gone to Target, Buy Buy Baby, and Amazon.com and registered for every single baby item under the sun that’s plastic and can be sanitized and trust me, it all coordinates, right? Now you’ve come down to the final weeks and it’s panic time when you realize this baby is coming out one way or another and you have to get it home. You just stick Baby in the carseat and go, right? No. Nope. No way, new parent. You are now attending Carseat 101 and there will be a quiz at the end. I have no doubt you will pass with flying colors!

First, let’s go over some vocab you’ll need for the next, oh, decade or so. Yeah, baby, your precious is going to be in a seat for a loonngg time. In chronological order, please:

Rear-facing only infant seat:

This carseat is used for newborns to sometimes toddlerhood. It’s easily identified by its handle, canopy, and left-in-the-car base. The carrier portion fits onto the base.

photo  

Convertible seat:

This carseat can be used for newborns, but is often used after a child outgrows a rear-facing only seat. It rear-faces, then converts to forward-facing for older kids.

GracoSize4Me70newborn2  

Combination (harness-to-booster) seat:

This carseat is for older kids, the kind who order combo meals at fast food restaurants (and yes, you too, will succumb to buying your child a grease-loaded meal item at some point). A combo seat FORWARD-FACES ONLY. It has a harness to keep wiggly kids safe, then the harness comes off (many store on the seat itself now) and it can be a belt-positioning booster. See why it’s for older kids only? It combines a harness and a booster into one seat. You don’t always need a combo seat. Sometimes your child can go straight from a convertible seat to a belt-positioning booster, depending on which convertible she uses and how old and big she is.

Photo Oct 02, 2 20 32 PM  

Belt-positioning booster seat:

This carseat is for kids who nearly have gray hair. Just kidding. Barely. The purpose of a booster seat is to boost a kid up higher so that the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt will fit them superbly over their bones, not their soft bellies. Kids have to have a certain amount of maturity in order to sit still in a vehicle seat belt and that comes around ages 4-6, depending on the child. Most parents find their kids transitioning out of a harness around ages 5-6, when “real” school starts, not that “pre-“ stuff. There are highback and backless varieties of boosters. Highbacks are great for the younger crowd because they provide head and torso support for sleeping. Backless boosters are harder to see from outside the car, so older, image-conscious kids like them better. Kids use booster seats until they can 5-step—fit in the belt like an adult—which is when they get to be the size of a small adult, around age 10-11.

lap and shoulder belt fit  

Let’s identify that you’ve gotten the right carseat for you. It used to be that an infant seat was an infant seat was an infant seat. Basically, all the carriers did more or less the same thing—it was the bases that distinguished them. Now we have carriers that fit small babies very well, some that don’t, some that have no-rethread harnesses, some that have canopies that disappear, and some still hanging around that fit kids up to 40 lbs. There’s quite a variety from which to choose and that can cause more confusion than ever! What’s my very first piece of advice to you in this area? Don’t insist on a travel system. Pick the very best rear-facing only seat that will work for you, then pick the very best stroller you can afford and put them together. Many strollers come with adapters and with a little bit of research on their website, you can find if the infant seat you want will fit on the stroller you want. The patterns may not match perfectly, but you will get a much better stroller this way usually unless you buy a high-end infant seat/stroller combo to begin with. I speak from experience: you don’t want to be stuck with a stroller you hate for years because you wanted to be all matchy-matchy with an infant seat you use for months. To help you in your search, we have both thorough, professional reviews and a list of our favorite seats.

Most of the time you will know if you’re going to have a small, average, or large baby by the end of your 40 weeks. If you and your partner are small folks and come from small families, genetics won’t let you down. Look for a rear-facing only seat that starts with a low birth weight of 4 lbs. It’s the same if you’re having a difficult pregnancy or if you’re having multiples. Fortunately, there are lots of rear-facing only seats that now have a minimum weight limit of 4 lbs., but they don’t always fit the preemie-sized babies well. We have a list of our favorite seats that fit preemies and multiples. If you’re having an average- or large-sized baby, any infant seat will do, though you’ll get more bang for your buck with a larger one. The size of your vehicle also has to be factored in since the larger the infant seat, the more space it takes up in the vehicle.

Now for some answers to common questions: