People often ask, “Is the Tummy Shield safe to use?” And “How was the Tummy Shield tested for safety?”
These are understandable questions. Before we get into the details of answering these valid questions we want to make a few things clear:
- A pregnant woman should always use the vehicle’s seat belt whether she chooses to add a Tummy Shield or not. Fatality rates for unrestrained occupants is at least 4 times higher than for an occupant who is restrained by the seat belt.
- Like a child’s car seat, the Tummy Shield is an aftermarket product. But car seats are regulated by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS 213). Whereas, there are no Federal Safety Standards that regulate this category of aftermarket product in the USA, Australia, or elsewhere as far as we’re aware.
- This does not mean that the product is inherently “unsafe” or “illegal”.
- It simply means there are no regulations or required testing protocols mandated prior to the product being sold to consumers.
- Effective, safe products like the Tummy Shield and cheap ineffective “knock-offs” are both legal to sell in the USA. (At Safe Ride 4 Kids we would like to get this changed. We welcome any and all assistance in achieving this goal.)
- The current testing standards (FMVSS 209) do not address the unique, although temporary, anatomy of a pregnant woman when considering effectiveness or risk of the existing seat belt design. Please see a list of published studies and articles that look at the effectiveness of the vehicle seat belt during pregnancy.
Tummy Shield Tested for Safety – Strength
The Tummy Shield manufacturer did extensive design, metallurgic, static strength and dynamic crash testing prior to releasing the Tummy Shield for sale in 2008. They are based in Australia. But their intent was to ensure the product was as congruent as possible with applicable AU, EU, USA standards.
In the absence of existing standards for this type of aftermarket product, in consultation with AU experts in the field, they decided that the safety and testing standards that apply to seat belt components in motor vehicles would be the most applicable. Any product that alters the path of the seat belt, including the Tummy Shield, must be at least as strong as every other component in the seat belt system.
Per “Australian Design Rule (ADR) 5/04 – Anchorages for Seatbelts ADR standards in the testing of vehicle seat belt components” the highest load specified is 22kN for front facing seating position seat belt anchor points. The load specified in FMVSS standards is almost exactly the same at 22.2kN. This test is a static test and is “Pass/Fail”. If the anchor point is able to withstand the load without failing, it passes the test.
A certified laboratory statically tested the Tummy Shield “hook” for strength to the requirements of 22kN. It did not break and showed only minimal deflection. The Tummy Shield meets the strength requirements of the seat belt components themselves.
How Crash Testing Works
We know that the Tummy Shield is at least as strong as the seat belt parts. We can reasonably conclude it will hold up in a crash. But how can we know if it “works”? And by “works” in this context, we mean restrain the occupant appropriately. In the absence of volunteers (yes, this is a joke), we have to turn to crash test dummies and crash test sleds for “dynamic testing”. Again, there are no existing standards to use for this type of product. The manufacture turned to industry standards for testing other components of the seat and seat belt. The manufacturer decided these testing specifications were the most applicable standards to use.
When we look at testing specifications, seat belts (or children’s car seats) need to meet are two primary criteria. This gets a little technical. The first is an acceleration or deceleration curve (speed over time). The second is the maximum g-force (or multiple of “gravity” which as a baseline is 1g) experienced by the occupant. In a sled-test, the test starts from a stand-still and accelerates up to a certain speed over a specific time (fractions of a second). The crash test dummy experiences this the same as if the test were going from being at speed and decelerating to zero. The industry standard for testing occupant injury criteria for seat belts, airbags and car seats is 48kph or 30 mph and max g-force of about 30g.
Tummy Shield Tested for Safety – Crash
The Tummy Shield was tested in a dynamic sled test with a 50th%tile Male Hybrid III dummy on a rigid test seat to the requirements of the Australian Design Rule ADR 4/03 – Seat belts. A prominent testing facility in Australia completed the tests with a sled test pulse of a velocity change of 48 km/h (30 mph) and a peak acceleration of 31g.
The Tummy Shield passed these tests with no breakages of the product or damage to the seat belts. The conclusion is a vehicle fitted with the Tummy Shield will continue to meet the requirements of the ADR 4/03 safety standard for seat belt performance. ADR, EU and the USA FMVSS standards are all very similar in testing and performance criteria. The manufacturer’s assertion is that the use of the Tummy Shield is congruent with any nation’s seat belt standards which are similar to ADR standards.
During the sled-test there were sensors in place to measure how much energy the seat belt actually experienced. Neither the lap belt or shoulder belt load exceeded 7kN during the testing. This is well below the 22kN that Tummy Shield tested to.
Safe Ride 4 Kids, as the USA distributor of the product, invested heavily in additional crash testing Tummy Shield for safety at Calspan, a certified testing lab in Buffalo, NY. We hired a highly qualified MD/PHD engineer with extensive history and background in the bio-mechanics and kinematics of crashes to design and oversee a testing matrix. The matrix involved:
- using multiple-sized, fully-instrumented adult crash dummies,
- multiple angles (front and L and R oblique)
- all at or above the FMVSS specs for the seat belt testing G-force/ acceleration profile
- a variety of anticipated misuse scenarios.
The intent of all our testing was to demonstrate to our level of satisfaction that:
- The injury/energy profile readings when using the Tummy Shield are consistent and similar with those measured when using just the seat belt alone.
- There is no additional injury profile introduced that would put the occupant at increased risk.
- There is the reasonable anticipation of benefit to the expecting mom and her unborn baby (or other user who is using the device to protect the abdomen) from the redirection of the restraining forces achieved with the use of a Tummy Shield away from the abdomen. This redirection eliminates the restraining action of the seat belt from directing impacting the baby or organs of pregnancy.
Real Life Car Crashes
The reality is that car crashes are extremely violent events. About 170,000 pregnant women in the US experience a crash every year. And every day these crashes negatively impact their lives and the lives of their babies. Bones get broken, internal organs get injured, soft tissue gets crushed and blood gets out of the vascular system into places it shouldn’t be all the time as a result of car crashes.
Given a severe enough crash, a woman using the Tummy Shield will experience bodily harm. This harm is not because of the Tummy Shield but because of the nature of the severe crash forces involved.
It is not uncommon for crash victims, pregnant or not, to experience fractured or crushed pelvis bones, leg bones etc. By design, the Tummy Shield transfers the restraining force of the lap belt away from the upper pelvis (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine or ASIS), where it is more likely to negatively impact the pregnancy, to the legs. The femur bones are the strongest bones in the body but even they can experience injury if the crash forces are severe enough. Please consider what would have happened to the pelvis/pregnancy/baby in the same crash had the occupant not been using a Tummy Shield.
Tummy Shield Real Life Results
The REALLY good news is that the product has been on the market globally since 2008. Thousands and thousands of women used Tummy Shields over the years. None of the users involved in a crash notified the manufacturer or any sellers of any injuries beyond minor bruising. At Safe Ride 4 Kids we have many testimonials from customers involved in a wide variety from minor to severe crashes, from roll-over to multi-impact crashes. Every one had a positive outcome with little to no injury. We hope this trend continues and is the experience for all our customers.
Existing Seat Belt as Is
There is too much evidence the existing system does not offer optimum protection to the expecting mother and unborn baby. A fact that existing stakeholders — car manufacturers, NHTSA and safety organizations — seem to have overlooked, willfully ignored or suppressed. After all no one wants to admit this issue has gone unaddressed for 60+ years. This costs tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of lives, immeasurable emotional suffering and an untold number of life-long debilitating injuries.
Our mission is to save lives and reduce the suffering caused by children being injured or killed in car crashes. We are willing to take an unpopular position that the existing seat was never designed, tested or intended to provide optimum protection to the expecting mother and her unborn baby. If 100% of pregnant women used Tummy Shields, we believe it could save thousands of lives every year. (Not to mention women being way more comfortable using the seat belt. A fact that may increase overall seat belt use during and after pregnancy.)
Other related questions
Were anatomical dummies simulating a pregnant mother used in the crash tests? If not, is there a way of doing so?
There is the MAMA2B research crash test dummy. It is not commercially available at Calspan and we did not utilize it in any testing. Plus since Tummy Shield redirects the lap portion of the seat belt, it removes the possibility of the seat belt putting pressure on the pregnancy. There would be no data to capture. Our engineer did not feel compelled to have us invest in those tests at this time. We are open to additional testing if it is determined that it would be valuable.
Have you spoken with anyone from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)?
We have not, primarily because the CPSC does not regulate anything having to do with vehicle safety. If regulated, NHTSA regulates products of this type. The best correlation would be children’s safety seats which NHTSA regulates with FMVSS 213. NHTSA regulates vehicle seat belts under FMVSS 209.
There are no FMVSS standards that regulate this category of product. Changing this is one of our long term goals. But at this time we do not have the time or financial resources to pursue accomplishing this goal. Congress would need to direct NHTSA to design and implement a certification protocol for this type of product.
Jim Hofferberth, former director of the Office of Crash Worthiness at NHTSA, petitioned NHTSA two separate times to adopt testing or certification protocols. He also requested a mandate to warn consumers about the risks the seat belt poses to pregnant women. In both cases, NHTSA has denied his petition and refused to take action. Until something changes, Tummy Shield unfortunately remains relegated to the realm of “unregulated- aftermarket” products.
I have heard that my insurance will deny my claim if I use your product. Is that true?
This unsubstantiated rumor has been circulating social media channels and chat rooms for years. It is a common response about a variety of after-market products. We have asked repeatedly for those making the claim to support it with a policy or an actual case. To date no one has given any evidence to back it up. An online search brought back no definitive result.
We informally reached out to insurance angents and claims adjusters in multiple insurance companies. They said they never heard of claims being denied because an after-market product was being used whether or not it was altering the vehicle or its safety systems.
We also reached out to a personal injury lawyer who said most products are unregulated. He added he had not heard of a single claim being denied for that reason. If there was an assertion the use of the product contributed to the injuries sustained and therefore costs, the insurance company pays the claim to their customer. Then the company pursues legal avenues to recuperate their costs by going after the Tummy Shield manufacturer (and possibly us). We would not promote the product if we believed it might fail to meet claims about what it does for mom and baby.
None of the customers who reached out to us after experiencing a crash while using the Tummy Shield said anything about their insurance company not paying their claims.
By Greg Durocher, CEO at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Technician Instructor since 2002
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