Safety Archive

Dangerous Seat Belt Extenders

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Why Seat Belt Extenders Should Not Be Used with Carseats and Boosters

seat belt extender in Tesla Model XHave you seen the recent story in the news about Ethan, the 6 year old who was severely and permanently injured in a crash? Because his seat belt buckle was flush with the vehicle seat, his father used a seat belt extender to make buckling his booster seat easier and it failed in the crash. What is a seat belt extender and why should it NEVER be used with kids in carseats?

Seat belt extenders are designed for ADULTS who are too large to fit into seat belts. This means that they have pulled the seat belt out all the way and it still doesn’t allow them to buckle it, not that it’s too difficult for them to buckle (my mom is obese and she struggles greatly to buckle the seat belt in my car, but that doesn’t mean it’s too short). There are different kinds of extenders: rigid, which have a metal stalk, and flexible, which have a webbing stalk, and they come in differing lengths. They also come in different colors and some are designed to be bolted at the seat belt anchor instead of buckled at the buckle.

If an adult needs an extender, they should choose the one that is the shortest that will accomplish the job of buckling the seat belt. Seat belt extenders change the geometry of the seat belt on the body. Ideally, the lap belt should lay low on the hips and the shoulder belt should cross the chest and touch the collar bone midway (use the vehicle’s shoulder belt height adjuster to change this, if there is one). Using an extender will cause the shoulder belt to shift off the collar bone because the buckle moves the latchplate and buckle over the body. No hardware should touch the body because it would cut into it in a crash; the seat belt will slice through the body until it reaches bone. In fact, the instructions will tell you exactly where the extender buckle will be placed in relation to the center of your body (your belly button).

What makes seat belt extenders dangerous? They are specific to the vehicle and seat belt into which they buckle and not every vehicle manufacturer makes them. NHTSA, the government agency which crash tests vehicles, hasn’t safety tested extenders. Just because a generic extender you bought off Amazon or some other website buckles into your car’s buckle doesn’t mean it will hold in a crash. And the extenders that bolt at the seat belt anchor? The instructions don’t even specify the amount of torque to be applied to the bolt!

Word of mouth makes seat belt extenders popular. I’m sure all vehicle groups discuss them at some point, but I’m most familiar with the Tesla forums since we’ve been early adopters of all 3 models—the Model S, the Model X, and the Model 3. Tesla parents are frustrated that their kids can’t easily buckle themselves into their boosters, or if there’s a 3-across situation, they can’t buckle themselves next to a sibling’s carseat because the buckle is flush with the vehicle seat.

Now would be a good time to talk quickly about crash forces. A simple way to figure out how much force you’ll put on a seat belt (or harness for a child) is to multiply your weight by the speed you’re going. So, if you’re going 30 mph, which is the standard crash test speed for a carseat, and you weigh 150 lbs., 30 x 150 = 4500 lbs. of force against the seat belt. Can you imagine having the hardware (latchplate and buckle of the extender) on your hip bone or belly in a crash? Only do it if you absolutely must, not for convenience; it’s better to be restrained for sure.

Why shouldn’t kids use a buckle extender when using a booster? For a variety of reasons.
  • Increasing the length of the seat belt increases head excursion and neck flexion. What does that mean in layman’s terms? A higher possibility of head and neck injury and a much greater risk of the child hitting the inside of the vehicle. Having a pre-tensioner to spool the extra webbing back during the crash cycle may help, but those are only just now coming out in back seats.
  • seat belt extender booster Tesla Model XThe extender may place the buckle right under the arm of the booster, which can then knock the latch release in a crash, leaving your child unbuckled.
  • It may place seat belt hardware over your child’s soft belly. The whole goal of a seat belt (and booster seat!) is to protect your child in a crash. Changing the geometry so that the buckle is near, or over your child’s abdomen, increases the injury potential.
  • It’s infuriating as a parent to know that someone is trying to make a buck off our children’s safety by selling a quick-fix solution targeted at unknowing caregivers.
What should you do instead of using a buckle extender?
  • Use a harnessed carseat as long as possible. It’s much easier to buckle a harness, which is up front and easily seen, than to struggle with a seat belt buckle that may be hidden.
  • Pull the booster forward on the vehicle seat slightly, buckle the child, then slide the booster and child back into position. Don’t forget to snug up the seat belt! This requires some strength, though.
  • If the buckle stalk is floppy, cut a short portion of a pool noodle and wrap it around the stalk.
  • Use a booster without arms, if you can. This isn’t always possible, unfortunately. Some vehicles have head restraints that jut forward and push the headwings of the booster forward. Most booster manufacturers won’t allow this. I’ve contacted our Maxi Cosi rep and she confirmed they don’t allow the RodiFix to be used with the Tesla Model X, which is unfortunate because it’s often mentioned as a solution for that vehicle. There’s too much of a gap for Maxi Cosi to feel comfortable that the RodiFix will perform well in a crash. You’ll want to check for that gap in other Tesla models since the vehicle seats are similar amongst the newer models.
  • Use a narrow booster or one that tapers toward the back. This means, of course, that your child needs to be narrow too and we know that kids come in all shapes and sizes, so that won’t always work.
  • Keep the booster buckled and have your child slide in and out of the seat belt. This takes a mature kid who won’t pull the length of the seat belt out and is fairly flexible. The trick is to put the shoulder belt behind the child’s back first, then slide down under the lap belt. Reverse the process to get into the booster.
  • In the future, look for vehicles that don’t have buckles that are flush with the vehicle seat. While this type of buckle actually improves belt fit and keeps the latchplate out of the belt path for carseat installation, if you’ve had a kid struggle to buckle a seat belt with one, you know the seconds tick by like hours until you get that tickle of anxiety in the pit of your stomach and grab the latchplate from them in a fit of “let me do it for you so we can get out of here!”

There are certainly alternatives to using a seat belt extender. It’s an easy out and usually easy tricks like that and carseats don’t mix. You don’t want your child injured and you certainly don’t want the hospital bill that comes with it!

Secondhand Car Seats: Can I buy one? Can I sell one?

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Question: Are used carseats safe to use?

Answer: Maybe.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a used child safety seat.  The main concern is if you don’t know the history, then it is possible it may have been in a crash or damaged.  It may be fine to take a gently used car seat from a sibling or good friend.  Buying one used at an auction site or second-hand store can be risky.  Here are some questions to consider even if you are just borrowing a seat:

  1. Do you trust the previous owner(s) with the life of your baby?
  2. Is the seat in good working condition with minimal wear and no loose parts?
  3. Do you know that the seat was never in a crash, dropped or otherwise damaged?
  4. Do you know that cleaners and solvents were never used on the harness system?
  5. Are all parts present and working correctly?
  6. Are the manual and labels all present?
  7. Is the seat approved for use in your country?
  8. If there is a recall on this car seat has it been resolved?
  9. Did you check that the car seat is not expired?
  10. Did you answer “YES” to all the questions and do you feel comfortable that it will protect your baby in a crash?

It should also be fine to sell or pass along your own used car seat to a friend or relative, provided you can answer “YES” to these same questions and know that you’d trust the seat for your own baby.  If you aren’t certain about one of the questions, anything is possible.  That eBay listing for an “open box” or “like new” car seat may have been returned after a drop or crash, you just never know if you don’t know and trust the previous owner.

While we generally recommend that you buy a new carseat, we understand they can be expensive.  We do list models in every budget category in our Recommended Seats Guide.  Budget convertible and combination child safety seats can be found for under $50 and boosters from $15.  In some areas, local health departments, Safe Kids organizations or other non-profits may distribute free or low-cost car seats.  We also recognize that a used car seat is very likely to be safer than no car seat at all, but the questions above are still very important to the safety of your baby.

If you have any questions about the safety of a used or expired car seat, please contact the manufacturer for more guidance.  Here are some other resources:

NHTSA Used Car Seat Safety Checklist

IIHS: Purchasing a child seat

American Academy of Pediatrics: Used Car Seats

SafeKids: Is it Okay to Use a Second-Hand Car Seat?

CarseatBlog: Buying and Selling Used Carseats

Child Passenger Safety advocates are not out to terrify you into buying a new seat when a perfectly good used one is available.  We just want to make sure parents and caregivers know how to identify a second-hand car seat that may be safe to use for your most precious cargo.

Letting Your Teen Drive Your Newer Car: Difficult or Easy Choice?

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National Teen Driver Safety Week 2019

October 20-26 is National Teen Driver Safety Week.  Keeping kids safe in cars has been our focus at CarseatBlog for over a decade now.  That doesn’t stop when they move out of a booster into a seatbelt!  Did you know that the risk to older teens is much greater than the risk to younger children in motor vehicles?  In fact, driving and riding with other teen drivers is simply the most dangerous routine activity that many teens will ever do in their life.   Unlike kids in some younger age groups, car crashes are still the #1 killer of teen drivers.  There were almost 2000 deaths and over 230,000 injuries to teens age 16-19 in car crashes in 2017 in the USA.  By comparison, there were 270 deaths and roughly 41,000 injuries to children age 5-8 in the same period according to CDC Data.

For young children, child passenger safety advocates have a guideline that we prefer to put the least protected occupant in the most protected seating position if possible.  For example, a child in a rear-facing carseat generally is very well protected from side impacts, so they could be placed in an outboard seating position, while an older child in a backless booster might ride in the center seat if appropriate.  Is the same principle even more important for teen drivers, given the much higher number of injuries and fatalities?

Of course, teen drivers are always in the driver seat, but what vehicle are they driving?  Are they in mom’s newer SUV with the top safety ratings and crash avoidance features?  Maybe they don’t get to drive the newest car in the family, so they use dad’s sedan from five or ten years ago that still has good safety ratings.  Or, are they in a used compact car from 15-20 years ago that may have been in a crash with frame damage?  Is putting the least safe driver in the safest vehicle available to them a mantra we should be teaching?

 

 

Yes, it’s tough to let your 18 year-old drive that shiny newer car, knowing that it’s more likely to get some dents and scratches.  It’s even tougher to let your new teen driver take the wheel of the newest car in the household, with a much greater risk of it being wrecked in a crash.  The problem is that inexperienced teen drivers also have a far greater risk of being severely injured.  Those advanced crash avoidance features may be what can keep them out of a crash.  If they do crash because of inexperience or distractions, those top safety ratings may be exactly what they need to avoid serious injury.  We have a list of safe and more affordable used and new cars for teen drivers.

If you are worried about your children in carseats being injured in a car crash, consider this table below.  In 2017, about 1,200 children age 0-14 died in motor vehicle crashes.  With any contagious disease, that would be considered an epidemic with immediate public outcry and government action.  Nearly 6,700 young adults age 15-24 died in crashes the same year.  For any cause of death, this is nothing short of a crisis.  According to the CDC, “Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

You did your best keeping your young kids in carseats and safe in crashes.  It’s so much more important to do the same once they start driving and riding with other teens!  Please, consider the risks before making your teen drive the least safe vehicle available to them in the family.

More fon Teen Driving rom NHTSA

WAYB Pico Recalled for Headrest Defect

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced a recall of more than 4,500 WAYB Pico car seats because the headrest can potentially detach, leading to an increased risk of injury in a crash.

WAYB has received 11 reports of headrests that have detached from their carseats. The problem seems to be that in WAYB’s original design, a 2-pin system holding the headrest can fail. No injuries have been reported.

Defect: The headrest can detach from the carseat.

Seats recalled: All seats manufactured between 3/1/2019 and 5/12/2019. After that time, WAYB began using a new design with a 1-pin system and a reinforced headrest.

Remedy: WAYB plans to replace the headrest on recalled seats, but as of this writing, the details of this plan have not been released. We will update with more information when it becomes available.

What to do: WAYB says that the safety risk is low. The company says it will be obvious if the headrest has detached, and that the product is fine to use as long as the headrest is still in place. However, in a Safety Recall Report, WAYB states, “In some cases, consumers noted that the headrest was loose, causing them to inspect the headrest, at which time it separated from the rest of the product. A loose headrest may indicate that a breakage of at least one of the tubular frame members has occurred. If both tubular frame members in the headrest are broken, pulling up on the headrest will likely lead to a separation of the headrest, making the breakage clear to the consumer.”

This makes it sound like a broken headrest might not be immediately noticeable to the consumer. Because of this, CarseatBlog recommends that owners of affected models contact WAYB at help@wayb.com or text or call them at 888.924.9292 if you have any concerns prior to receiving additional information from WAYB on the recall.  If you are still concerned, you should discontinue use of an affected Pico carseat until the headrest is fixed. 

We will continue to update this report as more information becomes available.

Official Recall Notice:

NHTSA Campaign Number: 19C001000

Manufacturer ForB dba WAYB

Components CHILD SEAT

Potential Number of Units Affected 4,558

Summary

ForB dba WAYB (WAYB) is recalling certain WAYB Pico child restraints manufactured between March 1, 2019 and May 12, 2019. The headrest’s aluminum tubular frame can break allowing the headrest to detach.

Remedy

The manufacturer is still developing a plan to replace the headrests on the affected seats, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 30, 2019. Owners may contact WAYB customer service at 1-888-924-9292.

Notes

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

1 Affected Product

Child Seat

BRAND MODEL PRODUCTION DATES
WAYB PICO 03/01/2019 – 05/12/2019