Better, Stronger, Faster? New Federal Safety Rules Proposed for Child Car Seats

From a parent’s perspective, frequent changes in car seat regulations and standards can be daunting. Still, safety is paramount, and so the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing a round of new safety standards for child car seats.

The changes would add side-impact crashes to the battery of tests that child safety seats currently undergo. The proposed new test would simulate a T-bone style crash: the striking vehicle, moving at 30 mph, strikes a smaller passenger vehicle moving at 15 mph. The specially designed sled test also simulates the vehicle door crushing inward, toward the car seat.

The new test will not only use the exiting crash test dummy that represents a one-year-old baby, but also a new crash test dummy that represents a three-year-old toddler. It will cover car seats used for children up to 40 pounds.

Testing car seats for safety in side-impact crashes was first suggested as far back as 2003; much of the intervening decade was spent researching what, very specifically, to test for. The NHTSA has proposed a three-year window for car seat manufacturers to make any needed changes to their designs when the rule becomes final.

The NHTSA is also revising its policy on the LATCH system for installing car seats, USA Today reports. LATCH was designed to make car seat installation easier for parents (although it’s not always as seamless as intended). The new rule, expected to go into effect in February or March, indicates that LATCH should not be used for a combination of car seat and kid weighing more than 65 pounds.

Car seat manufacturers will have to label their seats to indicate at what weight point parents should swap over to using a seat belt attachment instead. So for example, a seat that weighs 30 pounds would have to indicate that for use with children over 35 pounds, the seat should be hooked into the seat belt.

Seat weights are not currently generally labeled. When they are, many parents may find it hard to believe that the seat does not actually weigh a hundred pounds; it only feels like it on the interminable walk to the front door.

New regulations sought for child car seats [USA Today]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.