5 key child car safety developments

Tips to keep families up to speed

Published: July 28, 2015 10:00 AM

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Have you ever compared how you rode in a car as a kid with the way kids do now? Did you ride around without any seatbelts, much less a child seat? Perhaps you’ve thought, “We did all that and we lived.” But while safety has significantly improved, 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.

So while the overall trend is positive, you may not be aware of the latest developments in child passenger safety.

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Here are some child safety 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 rear facing 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 or 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. (Check our convertible car seat Ratings.)

LATCH labeling changes

Did you know that lower LATCH anchors have a maximum-use weight? Once the combination of the child and child seat reaches 65 lbs., the seat must be installed with the vehicle safety belt rather than LATCH. New child-seat labeling requirements will make this transition clearer by showing a maximum weight a child can be and still use LATCH on each seat. This change will mainly affect toddlers in forward-facing seats.

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

Last 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 a seat with dimensions and firmness closer to those in contemporary cars, interaction with a simulated front seat-back, 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 in 2015.

Jon Linkov and Jennifer Stockburger




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