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Don’t Sing and Drive?


While doing research on distracted driving, I came across some articles about the dangers—or lack thereof—of singing while driving.

Honestly, listening to music or singing while driving wasn’t something I’d ever really thought about. Sure, I tend to turn off/down my music when I’m in dangerous road conditions or trying to navigate a tricky situation. I make sure not to play my music so loudly that I can’t hear sirens. But I’d never considered whether the music itself was dangerous.

Yet an Australian study found that people singing along to music are more likely to vary their speed and less likely to notice peripheral distractions. There was even a negative effect when people were just listening, not singing along.

However a British study showed that people who listen to music in the car might actually be safer. They’re less likely to fall asleep, they do a better job staying in their lane, and they tend to feel calmer. The study did find, though, that people listening to music took longer to respond to hazards in front of them.

The type of music might make a difference. “Hardcore” music tended to make people tense up, while pop and acoustic had the best results.

Given that somewhat contradictory information, what’s the bottom line? Does music make you a better driver or a more dangerous one? Probably neither.

I couldn’t find the actual Australian and British studies (just articles about them), but I did find a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that showed…listening to the radio had almost no impact on safety. It did create a negligible increase in cognitive distraction, but significantly less than the distraction caused by talking to a passenger or talking on the phone.

The good news is you can probably keep listening to your music. Just use common sense and listen responsibly.

2017 GMC Acadia Preview


AcadiaCarseatBlog recently got back from the Chicago Auto Show, and one of the vehicles we took a look at was the redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia.

We’ve done reviews of the 2011/12 Buick Enclave and 2013 Chevy Traverse, sister vehicles of the Acadia. Those versions had great crash ratings and worked well with car seats, making them a good choice for families.

With the 2017 redesign, the Acadia will become even more family-friendly.

First, they’ve added some important safety features like lane departure warning and assist, front pedestrian braking, automatic forward braking (available on some models), and front- and rear-parking assist. There are also four cameras that combine to give a 360-degree view around the car.

Specifically for families and caregivers, GMC has added a feature to prevent children from being accidentally left in the car. How it works is that a system activates when the rear doors are opened and closed within 10 minutes of the ignition turning on. Once the driver arrives at his/her destination and turns off the car, a light and sound reminds the driver that something (or someone) might be in the back seat.

As far as we know, this is the first system put in place by an automaker to help prevent children from being left in cars, and we’re happy to see GMC being proactive in that regard.

The Acadia will also have GM’s Teen Driver features, which aim to help teens drive more safely and give parents insight into their children’s driving habits. Teen Driving automatically mutes the radio until the driver (and, if applicable, front passenger) have buckled their seatbelts. It also lets parents set a maximum volume for the radio, and parents can set maximum speeds that, if exceeded, will result in visual and audible warnings for the driver. Parents can also review their teen’s drive to see how far and how fast they went.

Non-safety features, but ones that are nice for families anyway, include five USB charging ports, including two in the third row. Fold-flat seats in the second and third row provide for lots of cargo room, and the second-row seats can slide forward with a car seat installed for easy third row access.

We also liked the custom-fit weather mat available for the third row of the Acadia. It folds with the seat so you don’t need to add/remove anything when you put the third row up or down. Even better, it has cut-outs for tether anchor access. (It’s the little things.)

The 2017 GMC Acadia will be available this spring. We hope to have a full review of it soon.

Flame Retardants Got You Hot?


OrbitToddlerG2Last night CBS news in San Francisco ran two stories (you can watch them here and here) about flame retardants in car seats. The reporter, Julie Watts, was concerned about the levels of TDCPP (otherwise known as chlorinated tris) found in her Orbit car seat, despite the company having claimed not to use the chemical.

Orbit has long been considered a “safer” choice when it comes to flame retardants. Their website claimed that its seats tested below detectable levels of the fire retardant chemicals known to be the most concerning, like TDCPP. But testing done last year by the Ecology Center found otherwise, and in December it became national news, although not many people seemed to notice. You can read Orbit’s response to Watt’s questions about the claims here.

Watts has been reporting on flame retardants for a long time and has rid her house of foams containing flame retardants. When she was pregnant, she (like many other parents) bought an Obrit system specifically because of their “green” claims. As an Orbit owner and a parent, she was concerned about the Ecology Center’s findings. However, she thought the levels were caused by a temporary supply issue and that her seat wasn’t affected. (This blog post from a retail store that sold Orbit products says that Orbit stopped using OEKO-TEX certified foam when they switched to the G3 line, which was in October 2013.)

But later, when her daughter participated in an unrelated study, Watts learned her child’s levels of TDCPP were alarmingly high. According to her news report, the average child has 5-7 ppb of TDCPP. (Watts herself had 3.8 ppb.) Her daughter had 60 ppb—eight times the average. Because she and her child share a (largely flame-retardant-free) home, and because her daughter doesn’t attend preschool, Watts says she looked to her car seat as the source of the chemical.

Within 24 hours of discontinuing the Orbit’s use, her daughter’s level of TDCPP dropped to 8.68 ppb, and 10 days later it dropped to 4.25 ppb. (TDCPP has a short half-life of under 8 hours in blood and tissue, so it’s not surprising the levels would drop so quickly once the source is removed.) Ultimately, three independent labs identified TDCPP in foam from Watt’s car seat.

Chlorinated flame retardants, like TDCPP, are allowed in car seats, and some other brands have used it, too. If Orbit used it also, there wouldn’t necessarily be anything wrong with that, except the company had made claims to the contrary. Another potential issue is that products containing California Prop 65 chemicals (like TDCPP) are required to include a warning label, which Orbit’s car seats did not. According to Watts’ report and documents from the California Attorney General’s office, Orbit has been served with two Prop 65 violation notices, but settled both out of court and was not required to notify parents. Other manufacturers have also been served with, and settled, Prop 65 notices, so Orbit isn’t necessarily alone in this.

It should be noted that according to Watts, testing of Orbit car seats manufactured in 2015 did not test positive for TDCPP, so the issue is not necessarily ongoing and does not necessarily affect all of its products.

With that said, people are bound to be buzzing about flame retardants in car seats, so let’s tackle some of the questions people might have:

Aren’t there flame retardants in all car seats? Is this really anything to be concerned about?

flameFederal law requires car seats to meet flammability standards, and they generally can’t do that without the use of chemicals. There’s really no way around it. But there are a lot of flame retardants out there, and there’s no requirement that companies use chlorinated tris/TDCPP.

Some flame retardants are known to be worse than others. Chlorinated tris was voluntarily removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s due to cancer concerns. It’s listed as a Prop 65 chemical in California—one known to cause cancer. It has also been linked to developmental delays and reproductive harm.

The concern is great enough that a few years ago, manufacturers like Graco and Britax vowed to phase out chlorinated tris from its products. Other industries have ceased using TDCPP as well, and in 2012 one of the chemical’s manufacturers announced it would stop producing the chemical by 2015 and had already stopped selling it for use in furniture.

If other industries—and chemical manufacturers themselves—are moving away from chlorinated tris, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that the car seat industry would move away from it, too.

Come on! Wouldn’t a kid need to eat a car seat to get any exposure to flame retardants?

Nope.  Flame retardants aren’t chemically bonded to the foam or fabric they protect. They can—and do—seep out of foam, where they can settle in dust (which can be inhaled or eaten) or can just leach out onto surrounding objects, like a hand resting on top of a car seat cover or the Cheerios that fell into the crack of the seat. Kids don’t need to put the actual car seat in their mouths to wind up with chemicals in their bodies.  How much exposure risk is in a vehicle remains unclear, but studies have confirmed that the substance leeches out of foams in furniture into dust particles.  A child in a carseat is restrained in close proximity to the flame retardant in a small, confined space, but the length of time can vary considerably, of course.

But how serious is the risk, really?

I don’t know. I don’t know if we’re all going to wind up with cancer and neurological damage from TDCPP or if none of us will. An expert Watts interviewed for her recent article “explained if someone ingested 5.4 micrograms of the chemical every day, over a lifetime, their cancer risk would be 1 in 100,000.” However, given the other potential risks of the chemical, children’s developing bodies, and the many other exposures people have on a regular basis, we don’t think it’s unreasonable for parents to be concerned about a chemical that has been shown to have detrimental effects, especially when alternatives are available.  The other related question regards the risk of not having a flame retardant child seat.  Are these flame retardants effective in major car fires, or primarily to reduce the risk from cigarettes and matches?

What can parents do?

You can look for car seats that don’t include TDCPP. The Ecology Center publishes occasional reports showing which flame retardants were found in which seats. The list isn’t exhaustive, and there’s no guarantee that a different batch of seats would test exactly the same, but it’s a start. (We wrote about the latest Ecology Center report here.)

You can also take some steps to avoid exposure. Wash your car seat cover (according to instructions) and vacuum often to eliminate dust. Crack windows in very hot weather and let your car air out–chemicals release faster in the heat. Wash hands often, and don’t let your child spend more time in the car seat than necessary.

More than anything, it’s important to remember that car crashes are a known, common risk and remain the #1 killer of children in most age groups. The known harm from fire retardants is not as concrete. Always use child restraints!



That Time I Got Stuck in a Car, in Public


Jennie Broke itI’ve found myself “stuck” in a car on more than one occasion, usually from installing a child restraint in the back seat and forgetting the child locks were on, requiring me to climb into the front seat to get out.

But until the other day, I had never been truly wedged in a car—and certainly not in such a public venue as where it happened.

You see, Darren and I went to the Chicago Auto Show, and we wanted to try out the features of the upcoming Chrysler Pacifica minivan. He was excited about trying the buttons that fold the third row. I was interested in exploring the strange LATCH set-up in the third row.

In retrospect, we should have taken turns exploring those aspects of the car, because you can’t really do both at once. I was sitting in the third row looking at the LATCH anchors when Darren started pushing buttons. Suddenly the 60 part of the 60/40 split started coming down on me.

“Oops!” Darren laughed, as he pushed other buttons to try to get the seat back up.

“Haha!” I laughed. No problem—I just scooted over a bit onto the other side of the seat, which hadn’t yet folded.

But the 60 side wouldn’t go back up. Darren speculated that maybe it needed to go all the way down first and maybe I was still sitting partially on the seat, blocking its descent. I didn’t seem to be, but I scooted over further onto the 40 side of the split and Darren hit the button again.

Only this time, he accidentally hit the button to fold the seat I was sitting on (again), and this time, I didn’t have anywhere else to move. The 60-side of the seat next to me was still partially folded down, blocking my exit in that direction. There was a man sitting in the captain’s chair in front of me (not that I would have been able to get out that way if it were empty).

No problem. I assumed the seat would have some kind of feature that stopped it from folding if it met resistance.


The seat kept folding and folding, and I kept sliding forward as much as I could (which wasn’t much) to avoid it. After a few seconds, I was completely and literally trapped in the third row of the Chrysler Pacifica. My side and hip were folded up in the third row, and the rest of me was wedged against the seat in front.

It was uncomfortable (my side hurt for a while afterwards), but mostly it was funny, so I laughed. I laughed so hard, in fact, that I had tears (of laughter) streaming down my face. Of course, this whole thing happened right after Chrysler’s big presentation to introduce the minivan, and to the throngs of people milling around it looked like I was crying tears of pain. They stopped to look.

“Is she okay?” I heard a couple people ask Darren.

“I’m fine! I’m just stuck!” I reassured them. “I’m laughing, not crying!”

I’m not sure they believed me. More people gathered around.

Darren gave up on trying to use the buttons to get the seat back up, but he did “help” by taking a picture. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very good picture, so I’ve created an artist’s rendering to give a better idea of what happened:

Artist rendering

Eventually I was able to wiggle out. The seats stayed stuck, though. One of the Chrysler people tried for about ten minutes to get them to work, but after that Darren and I slunk away since we felt bad about breaking their van. (To be fair, the one seat had stopped working even before I got stuck in the other one, so I don’t think it was actually our fault.) We went by a while later, though, and the seats had been restored to their normal position, so I assume they got them working again.

For anyone concerned about the safety or reliability of the folding third-row seats, I’m sure there will be a warning in the manual to clear the area before folding them.   Based on our experience, they will probably design in an automatic stop system!  These were pre-production models at the show that might not have had all bugs worked out, so we were happy(?) to help them find this flaw before they are sold!

But in the future, I’m going to stay out of Darren’s way when he starts pushing buttons.

Stay tuned next week or our preview of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan.