At Long Last: Easier and Safer Child Seat Installation

For years, parents
have struggled with proper child seat installation in their vehicles.
For years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
has struggled with finding a solution to this problem. Currently, approximately
80% of people make at least one significant error in using child restraint
seats. In addition, in the past few years there has been mounting frustration
with the effort required to properly install a child seat. NHTSA’s consumer
complaint Hotline received almost 20,000 calls in just the first eight
months of 1998 from people about problems associated with correctly installing
their child seat.

As we approach the
21st century, NHTSA has issued a final rule which requires both vehicle
and child seat manufacturers to redesign their respective products. The
new design changes will make all child seats compatible with all vehicles.
Parents and caregivers will no longer have to deal with the constant readjustment
and uncertainty in securing childseats as is the case with the current
belt system. Unfortunately, the final rule fails to require the new design
for the rear center seating position thus falling short in providing consumers
with the safest alternative for this location.

The
New Design

The new child seats
will have three attachment points which will secure into anchor points
in the car. While the final rule does not require child seats to be equipped
with top tethers, almost all child seat models will have one in order
to limit the movement of child’s head in the event of a crash. The new
child seats will also permit installation in older model vehicles which
do not have the anchorage system. Parents with older model vehicles will
still be able to secure the new childseats using the traditional method
of weaving the lap belt through the seat.

In minivans the
rule will require that the manufacturers install at least one anchorage
point in the second row of seats to afford parents easier supervision
of their child. The rule does not affect the use of integrated child seats
for parents or manufacturers who favor this option. However, even those
cars or minivans equipped with an integrated child seat must also have
the child seat anchorage points as well, in at least one or two other
seating position.

In sedans, the redesigned
child seats can be placed in the rear seat of cars. Each car must have
at least two vehicle anchorage systems located in the rear seat. In this
configuration, it is likely that the anchorage points will be located
in the rear outboard position directly behind the driver and passenger
seat.

Those cars with
three seating positions in the back seat will be required to have three
locations for securing the childseat. However, the center seating position
will consist only of a lap belt or lap/shoulder belt and a top tether
anchor point. NHTSA will not require manufacturers to install the lower
anchorage points for the center rear position. NHTSA gives two reasons
in support of this configuration. First, NHTSA claims that a lower anchorage
point in the rear center position would make it difficult to install another
childseat next to it. The second reason NHTSA gives is to minimize cost.
Finally NHTSA claims that the traditional lap belt along with the top
tether “should perform essentially as well as the full child restraint
anchorage system.”

NHTSA’s rationale
is misguided. The rule should require anchorage systems in all seating
positions in the rear seat including the rear-center. The rear center
position is the safest place to secure a child. The outboard seating positions
are not as safe because in the event of a side-impact crash, the outboard
location directly behind the driver or passenger seat is more vulnerable
if one side is hit because of its proximity to the point of impact. In
addition, many parents and caregivers prefer the rear center position
because it is easier to keep an eye on the child. Therefore in terms of
convenience and safety, NHTSA should have offered full and complete protection
in the center location.

As the rule currently
stands, a parent with one child may be inclined to place him or her in
the outboard location to avoid installation problems associated with the
lap belt in the center position. Most child seats are quite bulky and
large at the base, so even under the current rule it would be very difficult
to install one childseat in the middle and one adjacent to it. Thus, anchorage
points in all three locations would not affect the placement of two childseats
because most parents would have to place them in the outboard positions
anyway, regardless of lower anchor points in the center location. The
Center for Auto Safety also disagrees that the cost of adding one more
anchorage system will be prohibitive.

Use
of Child Seat on Airplanes

The issue of child
restraint and aircraft compatibility was of concern to NHTSA and the Federal
Aviation Administration. It was important that parents not be forced to
buy two different types of seats – one for the airplane and one for the
car. Fortunately, since the new rule allows for the installation of the
newly designed seats using the car seatbelt, this same method can be used
on the airplane as well. Even child restraints with rigid connectors at
the lower anchor points will be compatible on airplanes because most rigid
connectors will be retractable and will not damage the aircraft seat.
To ensure that child seat manufacturers will continue to take this issue
into account, NHTSA plans to issue a proposal in a few months requiring
retractable connectors.

Increase
in Cost of Child Seat

Most parents and
caregivers were willing to pay more for a seat that was safer and easier
to install . The new design may result in higher prices at the store by
about $17 per seat. However, the benefit of easier and proper installation
resulting in added safety for children is worth the modest increase.

Overall, the new
child seat requirements are a giant step forward toward helping parents
and caregivers safely secure children in cars. However, the rear center
position should be equipped with the anchorage restraint system as well.
For a minimum expense parents would have the benefit of this important
option of placing their child in the safest location in the safest most
secure manner.

From: Lemon Times,
Vol. 17, No. 3&4

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