5 developments that may keep your child safer in cars

Important updates that parents should know about

Published: September 16, 2014 01:30 PM
Photo: Eli Meir Kaplan/NHTSA

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Have you ever compared the way that you travelled in a car with the way your children do now? Have you ever reminisced about riding around in the “way back” without any seatbelts much less any child seats? Perhaps you even followed that line of thinking with a statement similar to “and we made it.” Now underway, Child Passenger Safety Week 2014 reminds that safety has significantly improved, but we can still protect children better.

Recent data from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that child passenger deaths have decreased 43 percent from 2002 to 2011 for children under 12. That improvement is attributed mostly to the fact that children are now buckled up and using appropriate child restraints, including boosters.

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

So while the overall trend is positive, you may not be aware of the latest developments in child passenger safety. Here are a few tips to keep you up to speed.

Rear-facing longer

Although the recommendations regarding the improved safety for rear-facing child safety seats have been out there for a few years, this important recommendation is still trickling down to parents and the healthcare community. Despite the desire to move your child to a forward-facing orientation for ease-of-travel or so that they can see better, resist as long as you can. Consumer Reports, with the American Academy of Pediatrics and other safety agencies, recommend keeping them there at least until they're 2 years old.

Convertible as second seat

In order to keep in line with the rear-facing recommendation until the age of 2, it’s likely that you’ll be purchasing a convertible seat (one that can be oriented rear and forward facing) as your second seat. Despite the fact that many rear-facing infant seats have weight limits between 30 and 35 lbs. (which should accommodate the average 2-year-old), most don’t have the height capacity to match. This makes a convertible model an important step. (See our convertible seat ratings.)

LATCH labeling changes

Did you know that the lower LATCH anchors have a maximum weight for which they can be used? Once the weight combination of the child and child seats reaches 65 lbs., they need to be installed with the vehicle safetybelt rather than LATCH. New requirements for labeling of child seats will make this transition clearer by showing a maximum weight for LATCH use on each seat. This change will mainly effect forward-facing seats when toddlers are heavy enough for it to apply. For Consumer Reports, it also means some changes to how we rate seats. (See our car seat buying guide.)

Tether use

Recent surveys show that parents are still using the top tethers for their forward-facing seats only about half the time. Our testing, and that of others, shows that this simple step can significantly reduce the forward movement of a child in a crash, especially the motion of the head. Reducing forward movement is crucial to avoiding contact with the vehicle interior or excessive crash forces that can result in injury to the head, the most serious type of injuries for children. Our recommendation is to hook up that top tether for all forward-facing installations

New child-seat crash tests

This year, Consumer Reports began a new assessment of child seats, a test that we believe better represents the interaction a child seat experiences in a real vehicle interior and the way current model vehicles crash. Its main components include tests being conducted on vehicle seats, interaction with a simulated front seatback, and a higher test speed. Our Ratings of infant seats mark the first group to be tested using this new protocol. We have plans to apply this methodology to all types of seats in the coming years, including tests of convertible models for 2015.

Jen Stockburger

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