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Consumer Reports Commends New Safety Standards for Child Car Seats That Take Effect Today

CR urges manufacturers to comply with the new rules as soon as possible to better protect children 

WASHINGTON, DC – Consumer Reports (CR) commended new federal standards for child car seats that take effect today. The long-awaited upgrades by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will make car seats easier to use for caregivers and provide greater protection to children, according to CR. 

”NHTSA’s updates to the federal car seat standards are key to protecting the most vulnerable vehicle occupants,” said Emily A. Thomas, PhD, manager of auto safety at Consumer Reports. “We are pleased with the changes they have finally implemented as it raises the bar for child passenger safety to meet the real-world crash and vehicle environments today’s children can encounter.”

Consumer Reports tests and rates over 100 car seats for safety in a crash, fit in vehicles, and ease of use to help consumers make informed decisions and choose the right car seat for their needs. CR and other safety organizations have been calling for significant improvements to the NHTSA car seat requirements for years. The upgrades address a number of issues, including:

  • Updating the test bench to better reflect the geometry and stiffness of modern vehicle seats.
  • Establishing test conditions and performance minimums for child seats in a side impact test. 
  • Introducing test conditions using a lap-and-shoulder seat belt rather than a lap belt only. 
  • Requiring product labels to specify important child weight minimums for each usage mode. 
  • Using test dummies that best represent the weight ranges where child seats are most commonly used. 
  • Updating owner registration program requirements to encourage greater compliance and ensure consumers get critical information in the event of a recall.
  • Adding school bus-specific child restraint system requirements.

“Parents and caregivers deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing a car seat is rigorously tested to comply with strong safety rules,” said Gabe Knight, safety policy analyst for Consumer Reports. “While NHTSA could have gone further, this improved safety standard is a crucial step forward. We urge car seat manufacturers to hit the ground running and meet the new requirements as soon as possible.” 

CR has long supported NHTSA updating the federal car seat standard to ensure children are better protected by law. Nonetheless, even with this update, CR’s own crash-test protocol to evaluate car seat performance goes beyond the required federal safety standards. CR’s testing and ratings of child seats go back to the 1970s. For a decade, CR’s own dynamic tests for crash test performance have included: 

  • Testing environment that is better representative of real vehicles by using an actual vehicle seat
  • Evaluating the interaction of a child seat with a simulated seatback in front of the child seat
  • Challenging child seats with a higher energy crash “pulse” which serves to differentiate models by the crash protection they provide.

CR goes a step further than NHTSA by always conducting child seat tests with a lap and shoulder seat belt and using a top tether for forward-facing tests. The testing also accounts for new technologies, like a load leg, which extends from the base of a seat to the car floor, as the test environment includes a simulated floor. While the updates to the federal standard include elements of CR’s test, Consumer Reports’ crash testing is designed to differentiate seats for crash safety rather than establish a performance minimum. Learn more about how CR tests child car seats and how to choose a car seat.

NHTSA’s changes are the first time that side-impact protection will be evaluated on an equal playing field. Previously, the labels on car seats that indicate some level of side-impact protection have been based on a variety of tests performed by each child seat manufacturer. Once implemented, federal side-impact requirements will set a minimum level of performance nationwide in standardized side-impact tests. 

Other than the revised labeling and registration cards, many of NHTSA’s changes won’t be evident to the consumer. Nevertheless, they are a vital step forward to assure parents and caregivers that their child seats must be tested to provide a minimum standard of safety. 

Media Contact: Emily Akpan, emily.akpan@consumer.org