The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the first time ever, has announced its proposal on upgrading children’s car seats to survive a side collision, or “T-bone” crash. Under the new rules, child car seats sold in the United States, designed for kids weighing up to 40 lbs., would have to go through a rigorous side-impact test before they are authorized for vehicle use.
"Car seats are an essential tool for keeping young children safe in vehicles and have a proven track record of saving lives," said NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman in the press release. "Today we continue to build on our extensive child seat safety program by adding side-impact crash protection for the first time."
An NHTSA study has shown that many child death and injuries commonly occur in side-impact crashes. Typically, in these crashes, the car carrying children is stopped at an intersection — usually at a light or stop sign — and when the car begins to go through the intersection, it is struck in the side by a vehicle traveling at a greater speed on the cross street. Unrestrained children are found to be eight times more likely to sustain incapacitating injuries than children restrained in child safety seats. However, the agency believes designing child car seats to withstand side collisions will greatly reduce the number of deaths and injuries per year.
The feds’ proposed test will aim to simulate a T-bone crash where the front of a vehicle traveling 30 mph will strike the side of a small passenger vehicle traveling at 15 mph. The NHTSA chose these speeds because they are known to cover over 90 percent of side collisions seen not only in the U.S., but around the world.
Rather than using actual vehicles, the tests will include sleds because “the aim isn't to test the crash worthiness of specific vehicles,” NHTSA officials said. The car seat will be positioned on the sled, with another sled ramming the side of the sled with the seat. The tests will use a to-be-developed side-impact 3-year-old child dummy, along with the NHTSA-approved 12-month-old dummy to accurately reflect the age groups of child car seat users.
"As a father of two, I know the peace of mind this proposed test will give parents," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, NBC News reported. "We all want to make sure our children’s car seats are as safe as possible, and today’s proposal will give parents and car-seat makers important new data on how car seats perform in side crashes.”
Installation and proper use of safety seats are vital in protecting children in motor vehicles. The NHTSA fact sheet says they can reduce up to 71 percent of fatalities for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. Acknowledging the importance of child vehicle safety, manufacturers like the Dorel Juvenile Group — the world's largest car-seat maker — has begun to incorporate small, already-inflated air bags.
Some manufacturers are already taking steps to improve the protection afforded by their car seats in side-impact crashes. The Dorel Juvenile Group, the world's largest car-seat maker, has been incorporating small, already-inflated air bags into some of their models to protect children's heads from injury in side-impact crashes since 2009, Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the Columbus, Ind., company told The Associated Press. "Dorel is committed to side-impact protection,” she said.
The NHTSA proposed regulations will be open for the public to comment on for 90 days after they are published this week. These regulations will not be final until the agency reviews comments and answers any important issues that may arise upon discussions. The agency acknowledges this can take months and sometimes years, but they are hopeful the process will move quickly.
Car-seat makers would be given a three-year time frame to make any design changes necessary to pass the side-crash tests and abide to regulations if and when they are passed. The new child car seats could save five lives and prevent 64 injuries each year, the NHTSA estimates.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing car seat until age 2 and then moved to a front-facing seat with a harness until at least age 4. They will then have to be placed into a “seatbelt-positioning booster seat until they’ve reached 4 feet, 9 inches tall and are at least 8 years old.” Children who outgrow their booster seats are recommended to continue to ride the back seat until they’re at least 13 years old.