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New Test Methodology for Evaluating Infant Child Car Seats


New Test Methodology for Evaluating Infant Child Car Seats

New protocol raises the bar to provide consumers with improved safety ratings; Five best infant seats, three “Best Buys,” plus tips for parents

YONKERS, NY — Consumer Reports has created a new consumer information program for child seat safety by updating its test procedures to better reflect current vehicle conditions.

Carefully developed over a 2.5-year period, Consumer Reports’ new crash tests provide consumers with comparative information on infant car seats’ potential for offering an extra margin of safety. The organization evaluated the seats’ performance on a scale that ranks seats from those that had the least potential to offer that extra margin (“basic”) to seats under crash conditions similar to those simulated that had the most potential (“best”). Consumer Reports’ focus on that extra margin is due to the fact that any car seat sold in the United States already must provide an essential level of safety under the government standards it must meet.

The new simulated frontal impact crash tests reflect the use of seat benches that more closely reflect the average car’s back-seat cushion size, shape and stiffness; the addition of a surface that simulates the front seatback to more closely represent an actual vehicle environment (to determine the effect when the car seat or the child’s head comes in contact with the seatback during a crash); and an increase in the speed of the tests from 30 mph to 35 mph.

A full description of Consumer Reports’ new infant child seat crash test protocol, and the newest ratings for 34 infant seats currently on the market, are available at www.ConsumerReports.org.

To create this new test, Consumer Reports extensively studied published research on pediatric biomechanics and child-injury patterns in vehicle crashes. The organization also analyzed crash-test videos and data from crashes conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Transport Canada, and conferred with other child passenger safety and automotive safety experts.

In addition to the crash test, CR also performed in-house testing of both ease-of-use and fit-to-vehicle assessments on each seat. The organization then combined the results of those three tests to determine the overall rating for each car seat, giving more weight to the combined scores of the ease-of-use and fit-to-vehicle testing than to the crash performance testing because optimal crash protection cannot be expected without proper use and secure installation.

Five Seats Worth Considering

The seats featured below achieve higher overall scores through their performance in each of Consumer Reports’ tests. Model names are shown along with retail prices. Full details and ratings on these seats and others can be found at www.ConsumerReports.org:

  • Chicco KeyFit and KeyFit 30, $170 and $180

  • Combi Shuttle, $180

  • Cybex Aton 2, $300

  • Safety 1st Onboard 35 Air, $160

  • Uppa Baby Mesa, $280

If consumers are looking for seats at a slightly lower price point, but that still perform well overall, consider some of Consumer Reports’ “Best Buys,” including the Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus and the Graco SnugRide 30 Classic Connect and Safety 1st Onboard 35.

Five Tips for Parents

Here are five things parents and caregivers must do to make sure their infant is safe when they travel in the car:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to install the car seat. When you’re expecting a baby, there are many things that have to be done, but don’t leave the car seat installation until the last minute. The best way to make sure the seat is installed correctly and that you know how to properly secure your baby in the seat is to take the time to get familiar with the seat and its instructions and to go to a car seat check up event hosted by safekids.org. A Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician will help you make sure the seat is properly installed and teach you the dos and don’ts of car seat safety.

  • Do not put bulky blankets or coats inside the harness. Swaddling is a common practice with infants, but when placing your baby in an infant seat, it is very important that the harness is snug enough against the baby’s lightly clothed body. No harness webbing should be able to be pinched between the thumb and forefinger. Tightening the harness straps over swaddling blankets or puffy clothing can leave undetected slack in the harness, which can lead to an increased chance of injury, or even ejection from the seat during a crash. For extra warmth, tighten the harness first and then place the jacket or blanket on top of the child and harness.

  • Position the harness straps correctly. The proper positioning for the harness straps for a rear-facing child is at or below the shoulders. This will prevent the child from moving upward in the seat in the event of a crash. It is also important to check the straps often since kids grow quickly. Consequently, the harness may need to be frequently adjusted.

  • Position the chest clip correctly. The purpose of the chest clip is to keep the harness in the correct position right before a crash. Technicians often see the chest clip positioned either too low, which can result in shoulder straps not fitting correctly, or too high, which can cause breathing issues. The proper place for the chest clip is at armpit level.

  • Pay attention to your child’s height as well as weight. A child that is too tall for their car seat is at an increased risk of head injury during a crash. All car seats have a height AND weight limit. According to the CDC growth charts, a child is actually more likely to outgrow many infant car seats in height before they reach the maximum weight limit of the seat, so be sure to pay attention to your child’s height relative to the shell of the seat and compare it to the height limit of the car seat.

CR’s Early History on Car Seats

Child car seats have come a long way since Consumer Reports first crash-tested them for the August 1972 issue of Consumer Reports magazine, when CR rated 12 out of 15 of them as Not Acceptable. Between 1972 and 1977, child seats were tested four times, which made Consumer Reports the only publication at the time that regularly crash-tested these seats and reported the results to both consumers and the government. The day after the organization released its 1974 report, the government proposed a stronger child-restraint standard. As of January 1, 1981, all manufacturers of child seats had to certify that their seats passed a dynamic crash test in compliance with government safety standards.

Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

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