Child seat safety testing standards may be suspicious

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Car seat

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is being taken to task for not having adequate testing criteria for car seats. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Parents nationwide are becoming concerned that the safety of their child’s car seat cannot be properly tested because of flaws in crash test dummy designs. The reason is that no crash test dummies are made to simulate obese children. A growing body of research suggests the safety provided by car seats may be deceptive.

Government traffic safety organization ignoring problem

Car seat makers, car safety organizations and concerned parents are taking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to task because of a flaw in the crash test dummies that it uses in its crash tests and provides to other organizations that perform crash tests. The NHTSA, according to the Washington Post, does not have a crash test dummy suitable for testing crash safety for obese children, a growing segment of the population. There are no test dummies that simulate children weighing more than 65 pounds, nor are there child-size dummies that can be used to determine criteria for side impact, rear impact or rollover crashes. The requirements for car seats or booster seats for children are only determined by front impacts.

Seats for larger children go unregulated

The NHTSA only tests things it has regulatory control over, so if a car seat claims to do something the NHTSA has no regulation over, the car seat does not get tested by the NHTSA. Car seats made for larger children claim to keep obese children safe, but no requirements exist for obese children, so the NHTSA does not test those claims at all. Parents feel compelled to buy the seats out of concern for their child’s safety, but they could be getting swindled by a surreptitious manufacturer. A dummy the size of a 10-year-old and a 78-pound child dummy, simulating an obese child, have both been in development for a decade with no progress at all. Car seat manufacturers have simply changed weight recommendations, according to the Daily Mail, from 65 pounds to 85 pounds to market to parents of obese children. Current test dummies also do not reflect the lesser skeletal developments in children compared to adults.

Getting the Freak on

Steven Levitt, one of the authors of the “Freakonomics” series of books, released a study showing car seats were no more effective in car crashes than a lap and shoulder belt at preventing fatalities in children 2 and older. The original article is still available through the New York Times, and the whole study is available on the Freakonomics website. Levitt used NHTSA data regarding car crashes and car seats, discovering first that NHTSA claims that child seats prevent trauma or death are only compared with no restraints at all. Lap and shoulder belts were found to prevent fatalities at the exact same rate as car seats in car crashes in which at least one person died.


The Washington Post

The Daily Mail

The New York Times


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