June 13, 2003 -- Use them correctly, and most child car seats will do their job. That's the vote of confidence that consumers received from a new safety rating system.
Three agencies -- the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Consumers Union, and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety -- issued their first ease-of-use ratings for child car seats, including booster seats.
"Overall, the ratings are positive, but there is room for improvement," says Jeffrey W. Runge, MD, NHTSA administrator.
In their testing, NHTSA quality-assurance people looked at:
- Whether the seat is pre-assembled or requires assembly after purchase.
- How clearly the seat was labeled.
- How clearly the instructions for use were written.
- How easy it was to securely strap the child into the seat.
- Whether the seat had features that made it easier to install in the car.
Of the 68 child car seats tested, 39 got an overall "A" rating, 68 got overall "B" grades, and several received a "C" rating in one or more categories. The NHTSA gave 107 total grades for overall performance because it tested many of the reversible car seats twice; separate scores were given for forward-facing and rear-facing seats.
However, only the PortAbout, Evenflo Tribute, Graco Comfort Sport, Evenflo Sightseer got straight A grades across all safety inspection categories. The others got some Bs or Cs plus As.
The complete list of child car seat models and their ratings are available on the NHTSA web site: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/CPS/CSSRating.
Child car seats are easier to use these days thanks to latch improvements made in recent years, the group said. However, they hope manufacturers will use the ratings to make further improvements.