Current Child Car Seat Protection Not Enough, Experts Say
Feb. 9, 2000 (Washington) -- Federal regulators have failed to go the full
mile in terms of protecting the safety of infants and toddlers riding in motor
vehicles, a group of experts told officials of the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA) Wednesday.
It is generally acknowledged that the majority of child safety seats are
effective, but there is "little timely or documented guidance as to their
relative performance and effectiveness," said Kathleen Weber, who is
director of the child passenger protection research program at the University
of Michigan Medical School. And under the current federal standards,
"neither the public nor NHTSA has any way of knowing how the seat will
perform when tested to the limits at which the seat is advertised," added
Sally Greenberg, senior product safety counsel for Consumers Union, the
publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.
The 14 people who testified at the open public meeting convened by the NHTSA
were safety experts from consumer groups and research institutions, including
Weber and Greenberg; representatives from the car manufacturing industry; and
two 'general citizens.' According to the participants, the information
currently required and disclosed by the NHTSA provides nothing of value to the
consumer. The NHTSA could use its web site to communicate more information
about the appropriate and safe use of car seats, yet even this resource
presently is wasted, they said. But despite agreeing that further regulation
was needed, opinions did vary on what shape and form the regulations should
The most widely discussed solution was the development of an overall 'star'
rating system similar to the one now used in Australia and Europe. But this
seemingly consumer-oriented idea did not receive widespread support. Speaking
out against it were not only industry representatives, but also some
representatives of consumer groups, including Stephanie M. Tombrello, executive
director of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., a national organization devoted to child
"I'm worried that a 'star' system will not address the right issue,"
Tombrello tells WebMD. In her experience, she says, the problem really rests
with the typical parent -- not the seat. In fact, she tells WebMD, the car
seats now on the market actually are very forgiving, especially considering
that there presently are about 600 infant automobile deaths per year, although
at least 80% of all car seats are misused. "We are calling for updated
regulations," she says. But those regulations should focus on providing
consumers with the education necessary on how to select and install the
appropriate seat, rather than focusing on the seat itself, she says.
"The best seat is the one the fits your child, fits your vehicle, and
fits the needs of your family," she tells WebMD.
But the adoption of a good rating system is possible, Greenberg says.
"It is safe to say that most car seats fit most cars," she tells WebMD.
During her testimony, Greenberg also noted that three safety seats failed a
1995 Consumer Reports crash test, which was designed to approximate the
NHTSA's existing standards. It is important to be able to distinguish between
these products, she tells WebMD. A rating system, she says, would also force
manufacturers to produce better products. But there is one critical caveat: The
NHTSA must also upgrade its testing procedures "or run the risk of
misleading the public," she says, while noting that the NHTSA currently
does not test seats for the upper limits of the child's weight and vehicle
speed displayed on the labels.