Car seats have been designed to protect a child from injury and death when the vehicle they’re riding in is involved in an accident. Since their introduction, car seats have saved thousands of children’s lives. More lives were saved when states across the country implemented laws requiring a child ride in a car seat. Tennessee was the first state to implement such a law in 1978. By 1988, all 50 states had mandatory child car seat laws in place.
Child car seat laws changed after front passenger airbags were introduced. Laws were changed preventing a child from riding in the front passenger seat due to the explosive force of an airbag deploying. Such force could cause severe head trauma or death to an infant riding in a rear facing car seat.
In late January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it’s proposing to introduce new regulations for car seats based on their ability to protect a child from injury or death when involved in a side impact crash. Initially car seats were primarily designed to protect a child from a frontal impact as experienced in a head on collision. Designs were modified over time to protect a child from a rear impact collision. If the NHTSA proceeds with its proposal they will begin testing child car seats for side impact effectiveness for the first time.
The NHTSA hopes to upgrade the standards for car seats carrying a child up to 40 pounds. Tests will be conducted on an existing crash test dummy designed to approximate a 12 month old child as well as a 3 year old child. Development of the crash test dummy approximating a 3 year old has yet to begin but could follow shortly once the NTHSA completes is public 90 day “comment period”.
The tests will involve mounting each crash test dummy strapped into various car seat models and onto a sled which will be rammed from the side simulating a T-bone accident. Most T-bone accidents involve a car that has stopped at a light or stop sign, proceeds into the intersection and is struck on its side by another vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed. The tests will simulate a car accelerating at 15 miles an hour, as if it were a vehicle entering the intersection once the traffic light has turned green. It will be struck in the side by another sled traveling at 30 miles an hour.
The goals of the proposed test and regulation that will arise from the test results will be to:
- Provide parents and car seat manufacturers’ data on how well each model of car seat performs in the tests.
- Create car seats that better protect infants and small children from injury and death
Car seat manufacturers will have 3 years to comply with any new regulations that arise from the tests. The NHTSA estimates that car seats which offer better side impact protection will save the lives of 5 children each year and help 64 children avoid injury. If you’d like to be heard on this matter, contact the NHTSA to comment. I’d also welcome your comments and questions in the comments section of our blog or on our Facebook and Google + pages.