Do car seat heaters get too hot and burn drivers?

Consumer Reports News: March 18, 2011 06:07 PM

The spring season in the northern hemisphere will begin Sunday and winter will soon become a distant memory. That is, unless you're one of the people that have been burned by car seat heaters.

Doctors and safety advocacy groups have been warning that some drivers--especially those who suffer from diminished feelings or are paralyzed in their lower extremities--have been severely burned by built-in heated car seats. A law firm in Oregon, for example, says it has handled about 25 cases of heated car seat burns and knows of at least 150 other people who have been hurt by car seat heaters--some that apparently get as hot as 120-degrees, say critics.

USA Today reported that Sean Kane of advocacy group Safety Research and Strategies and Dr. David Greenhalgh, a physician and chief of burns at Shriners Hospital for Children in Northern California, have recently petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to look into the issue.

In the past, NHTSA has issued recall warnings dealing with specific car seat heater incidents, but never a general warning or safety alert regarding heated car seats.

A spokesperson for NHTSA confirmed yesterday to Consumer Reports:

Mr. Kane has provided no data on the frequency of such injuries, but nevertheless, NHTSA is reviewing agency data to determine how widespread the problem is. As part of its analysis the agency will determine whether the frequency and severity of this condition may create an unreasonable risk to safety. Based on its analysis, the agency will determine what actions, if any, are needed to address this issue.

If you have heated seats as a built-in option for your car, read your vehicle's owner's manual to ensure you know how the system works. (Some versions, for example, have a built-in timer to automatically limit how long the heater stays on and many have different temperature settings.)

While the NHTSA gets to the bottom of the matter, we'd like to know: Have you ever been burned by car seat heaters?

--Paul Eng

NHTSA to look into burns from car seat heaters [USA Today]
NHTSA to Investigate Seat Heater Burns [US News]
Hot Cross Buns: NHTSA reportedly set to investigate seat heater burns [Autoblog]
Safer Car website [NHTSA]

Paul Eng

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