National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed new side impact requirements for car seats. The requirement would be for car seats for children up to 40 pounds to pass a side-impact collision test. This will hopefully reduce the force of impact on the child’s head, shoulders and chest.
Side-impact collisions typically happen when one car is stopped in (or at) or moving slowly through an intersection when another vehicle traveling at a higher speed hits the first car as it drives through the intersection on the first car’s cross street, also known as a “t-bone”.
Congress first called on NHTSA to adopt side-impact standards for child car seats in 2000.
Update 2021: There are still no such standards. While manufacturers often conduct their own side-impact testing, the testing is not regulated. So “passing” can mean very different things.
Update 2022: In June 2022, NHTSA finally passed side impact standards. This updates the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) by adding performance requirements for child safety seat testing in a simulated 30-mph t-bone side-impact collision. This side-impact standard mirrors the requirements for a child’s car seat in 30-mph frontal-impact crash. Child restraints will be evaluated using a newly developed test dummy representing a 3-year-old child and an existing dummy that simulates a 12-month-old.
The current crash test requirements for child restraints are primarily for front-impact collisions. These are the most common type of crash.
Side-impact crashes claim an average of five kids’ lives each year and injure about 60. Whereas, frontal impact collisions results in about 318 child occupant deaths a year.
According to the 2009 FARS data files, there were 33,808 people killed in motor vehicle crashes. 322 of whom were children aged 4 and younger. Among those 322 child fatalities 92 (29%) were unrestrained. 178 (55%) were restrained in a car seat and 27 (8%) were restrained by just the vehicle seat belts. The restraint use for the remaining 25 (8%) is unknown.
Riding in motor vehicles today is an inherently risky activity. And unfortunately, there are a percentage of crashes that fall into the “un-survivable” category.
Side impact testing proposal
NHTSA states in their proposal that passenger vehicles already provide side-impact protection for several different types of side crashes as required by FMVSS 214. The struck vehicle must limit the potential for injuries to an occupant’s head, thorax and pelvis, as measured by test dummies seated in the front outboard seat and rear outboard seat on the struck side of the vehicle (“near side” positions).
This new requirement for car seats would test the child restraint itself for added safety of children up to about 4 years of age (40 pounds). 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.
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
NHTSA’s proposal goes on to state, the sitting height of older children restrained in child restraints are typically positioned with the head high enough above the belt line to benefit from the vehicle’s side impact safety features, such as side window curtain air bags. Thus why the proposed requirement only goes up to a 40-pound child.
The proposal initiates the first step toward its implementation. The first step is a 90-day period during which the public has a chance to comment on the proposal (www.regulations.gov). Then, the agency will review the proposal in light of the comments, making any adjustments it deems necessary. This process can take months or even years. Finally, when NHTSA’s regulations are final car seat manufacturers will have three years to implement the new rules and meet the new standards.
The first thing to note is that the new testing requirement is only for restraints certified up to 40 pounds. This only incorporates the first ten pounds of the certified range for the small RideSafer vest, but most importantly, the proposed side-impact testing for child restraint systems excludes “Harness Restraints”, such as the RideSafer, from the testing requirement. Part of the reason is that harnesses and vests have no structural components to offer side impact protection. And they do fill a much needed niche in the car seat world.
NHTSA realizes that children over 40 pounds who are riding in appropriate child restraints are positioned in such way that they are better able to benefit from the side impact occupant technology mandated by FMVSS 214, which regulates how vehicles are built for side-impact protection.
The proposal also notes that “approximately 92% of side crashes involving restrained children are of equivalent or lower crash severity than the FMVSS 214 crash of small passenger car”. Thus, they want to focus on the seats for children birth to 40 pounds.
In conclusion, all the studies have shown children are much safer when properly using a child restraint versus not being restrained at all. We believe that the RideSafer offers excellent protection in the most common type of crash, which is a frontal impact.
Reducing side impact collisions
We also believe that as drivers we must take on the responsibility of ensuring that we, to the very best of our ability, are only putting our vehicles out into intersections, which is where side impacts occur, after taking reasonable precautions to ensure that oncoming traffic is stopped or stopping.
As a father and as an emergency responder of 18 years, I assure you that on many occasions I have waited a few extra seconds to ensure that oncoming traffic was stopped prior to entering the intersection and putting myself and my family (or my crew) in the path of careless drivers. I would much rather hear the car behind me honk than see headlights coming through my side window.
By Greg Durocher, CEO at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Technician Instructor since 2002
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