Strollers: 5 important safety features to look for

Consumer Reports News: August 18, 2009 11:27 AM

Just as the types of strollers have expanded over the years, so has the number of features. Some stroller features will make your baby's ride safer and more comfortable while others, such as cup holders and shopping baskets, are aimed at parents. Here are some of the stroller features likely to affect your child's well being the most. (See our Strollers buying guide and our latest Stroller Ratings for details on specific models' features.)

Restraint system
Get a stroller with a sturdy safety belt and crotch strap, which keep a baby or a toddler from slipping out. Most are made of thick nylon webbing. Some models we've tested in the past had a crotch strap that could be bypassed. According to ASTM safety standards, a crotch strap should be mandatory when the waist strap is in use.

Look for buckles on the harness that are easy for you to operate but difficult for small hands to unfasten. If you're shopping with your baby, check the seat belt to make sure it's strong and durable, and fits snugly around your child. Some strollers have only waist and crotch straps, but many come with an adjustable five-point harness (two straps over the shoulders, two for the thighs, and a crotch strap), much like those found in car seats, which keep a baby from slipping or falling out if the stroller tips, or climbing out when you're not looking. The straps should be height-adjustable for proper fit, and securely anchored.

Check that any stroller you intend to buy has a good parking brake, one that's convenient to operate and locks two wheels. Parking brakes on two wheels provide an extra margin of safety. Some two-wheel parking brakes are activated in a single stroke by a bar in the rear of the stroller frame. Others require two actions and have foot-operated tabs above each rear wheel. When brakes are activated, plastic cogs engage with the sprockets of the rear wheels. Avoid models that can hurt your feet when you engage or disengage the brakes with light shoes or bare feet. In addition to parking brakes, most jogging strollers have bicycle-type hand-operated brakes--important to help you slow down when cruising at a fast clip. Some pricier jogging strollers have hand-operated brakes on the front or rear wheels.

The SUV syndrome has carried over into strollers with large wheels and a rugged, off-road appearance. The larger the wheels, the easier it is to negotiate curbs and rough surfaces. But big wheels eat up trunk space. Most strollers have double wheels on the front that swivel to make steering easier. Front wheels feature two positions: full swivel for smooth surfaces or locked in one forward-facing position for rough terrain. Some three-wheel strollers have a front wheel that doesn't swivel; those can be hard to maneuver. Misaligned and loose wheels are a chronic stroller problem. One sign of good construction is wheels that sit on the floor uniformly when a baby is inside.

Leg holes
Carriages and strollers designed for newborns or young infants, which fully recline, must have leg holes that close so an infant can't slip through. Manufacturers use mesh or fabric shields or hinged, molded footrests that raise and clamp over the leg holes. According to the industry's voluntary standard, a stroller with leg holes that can't be closed shouldn't be able to fully recline, which is meant to prevent its use with a newborn.

A canopy is a must-have for protecting your baby, especially in glaring sunlight or inclement weather. Canopies range from a simple fabric square strung between two wires to deep, pull-down versions that shield almost the entire front of the stroller. Reversible (or 180-degree travel) canopies protect the baby from sun or wind from ahead or behind. Some canopies have a clear plastic "peek-a-boo" window on top so you can keep an eye on your baby while you're strolling. The window (or viewing port) is a nice feature; you'll use it more than you'd think.

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