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Improve Child Seat Standards

Improve Outdated Child Safety Seat Standards

Author: U.S. Senator Peter G. Fitzgerald

May 31st, 2000 - As parents, we take comfort in knowing that our children are safely buckled in a car seat or booster seat, but that confidence may be misplaced. Many parents would be alarmed to learn that the seats we trust to protect our children may not, in some instances, be up to the task.

Despite widespread use of child safety seats, automobile crashes are the leading cause of death among children in the United States. As many as 600 children under the age of five are killed in car crashes each year. Every state in the nation requires children under the age of four to ride in a safety seat at all times, but the safety standards set by the federal government for car seats, and the methods it uses to test them, are outdated and inadequate.

Many of our current testing methods for child safety seats date back to the 1970s and don’t account for changes in car design over the last quarter-century. Rather than testing car seats in today’s sports cars, compact cars, sports utility vehicles, and minivans, the government uses a test bench modeled after the back seat of a 1975 Chevy Impala.

Existing child safety seat standards also do not meet common-sense standards set by other countries. For example, although side-impact, rear-impact, and rollover collisions account for about half of all child automobile fatalities, we currently test car seat performance only in frontal collisions. Small children are particularly vulnerable to head injuries in side-impact collisions, yet car seat manufacturers in the U.S.—unlike European manufacturers—are not required to use side-impact padding in their seats. European countries also test seats extensively to ensure they are able to protect children of different ages and sizes, while the United States’ efforts in this area are comparatively lacking.

Additionally, current safety seat standards and many state laws ignore a significant number of our children who have outgrown their car seats but may still be too small for regular adult seat belts. Auto safety advocates call this the "forgotten child" problem. There are virtually no federal standards to protect these children, even though experts say booster seats are the most effective way to secure this age group. Many of the forgotten children are improperly restrained in car seats that are too small or in adult seat belts that are too big—or they are not restrained at all. In automobile crashes, these children may be at a much greater risk than other passengers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—the safety agency responsible for testing child restraints—needs to move immediately to find ways to close this disturbing child safety seat gap.

Finally, parents often do not have the kind of information they need to make the best safety decisions for their children. Crash test results are not readily available to consumers, and there is no rating system to help parents know which seat offers the best fit for their children. Warning labels and instructions are often so baffling that many parents install their car seats improperly and thereby unknowingly place their youngsters at risk.

The shortcomings of our current safety standards and information systems are unacceptable. We could help prevent deaths and injuries to children by improving the way we test child safety seats, and by providing parents with accurate, easy-to-understand information about the safety and installation of the seats.

Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-Arkansas) and I recently introduced legislation to modernize the federal government’s testing methods, expand efforts to protect children in various types of collisions, and close the "child safety gap" that leaves older children unprotected.

To help prevent head injuries to small children, this bill requires manufacturers to equip car seats with side-impact protection. In addition, the measure instructs NHTSA to test some seats in actual cars—instead of in test bench simulators—to evaluate the seats’ performance in real-world crashes. Finally, the legislation requires NHTSA to create a crash test information system that provides parents with reliable information they can use to decide which car seat or booster is best for their children.

The federal government has an opportunity to play an important role in protecting our children. Upgrading NHTSA’s antiquated testing methods and safety standards is estimated to cost about $250,000—a wise investment considering that automobile crashes are the leading cause of child deaths in this country.

Americans live in their automobiles. Cars are an essential part of our lives. We should do all that we can to ensure that the little ones we carry with us are as safe as they can be

This information came from a
US Senate online article.

*** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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