Car seat manufacturers may soon have to protect children from injury or death in a side-impact collision if new government regulations are accepted. Side-impact crashes claim at least five kids' lives each year and injure more than 60.
The new set of safety standards were proposed Wednesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and they would require that car seats meant for children weighing up to 40 pounds pass a first-of-its-kind side-impact collision test that will hopefully reduce the force of impact on the head and chest.
In the test, a vehicle traveling 30 miles an hour will strike the side of a small passenger vehicle that is traveling 15 miles an hour. The scenario, known as a "T-Bone" collision, is a common one at the scenes of side-impact accidents--the Associated Press reports that research finds most side-impact crashes happen when one car is stopped at or moving slowly through an intersection when another car, which is traveling at a higher speed, hits it as it drives on the cross street.
The new safety test will be conducted with the car seats mounted to special sleds rather than secured in actual cars, officials said, because the goal is to learn the safety of the seats, not of the cars the seats are placed in. Another innovation is that the NHTSA hopes to subject a new crash test dummy to the simulation, meant to resemble a 3-year-old child. A dummy resembling a 12-month-old baby is already approved by the agency and is set to be included in the tests. Even though the majority of car seats already meet mandatory safety standards to guard against front-impact collisions, says David Friedman, deputy administrator of NHTSA, the tests will help determine more ways car seats can protect the head and torso against side-impact collisions. Safety 1st will also "continue to work with vehicle manufactures to advance seat-t0-seat compatibility and car-seat installation and safety," says Julie Vallese, a consumer safety expert.
The announcement of the new standards is only the first step toward its acceptance and implementation. The first step is a 90-day period during which the public has a chance to comment on the proposal on www.regulations.gov (follow the site directions for commenting). After that, the agency will review the proposal in light of the comments, making any adjustments it deems necessary--a process that can take months or even years, though the NHTSA says it hopes to move more quickly than that. Finally, once the agency's regulations are final, car seat manufacturers will have three years to implement the new rules and meet the new standards. Some manufacturers also anticipate that "stronger, energy-absorbing materials will be added to the car seat," says Allana Pinkerton, a global safety expert for DIONO, which will contribute greatly to "reducing injuries and death" and protecting kids on the road.
Updated 1/23: We replaced the image of the child in a car seat on this post after several readers pointed out that the previous image showed a child wearing winter coat. Bulky coats should be removed before a child is strapped into a car seat.
Image: Boy in a car seat, via Shutterstock