PRECIOUS CARGO: Proposal could protect children in car seats from side crashes

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COLUMBUS, Ind (April 28, 2014)– Parents could soon notice changes to car seats that would better protect their children from a side impact crash.

Currently, car seats undergo extensive testing for frontal impacts, but not for side impacts. While many car seat manufacturers sell seats with extra padding and other features promising protection from a side impact crash, there isn’t a U.S. standard. That could soon change.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is under the U.S. Department of Transportation, proposed upgrades late January.  The proposal included what the federal government called “a first-ever side impact test for car seats sold in the U.S. that are designed for children weighing up to 40 pounds.”

According to the NHTSA, the side-impact test should give them, car seat manufacturers and parents detailed information about how car seats would perform in that type of crash. The car seat should be able to keep the child restrained in the seat, protect his or her head from a door, and slow down the force of the impact on the chest and head.

The NHTSA issued FOX59 the following statement:

“NHTSA prioritizes the safety of children and is continually working to improve child passenger safety through numerous efforts—including working with our safety partners in the states, providing expertise and support for child seat-fitting stations, regular educational outreach to parents and caregivers, conducting defect investigations and recalls, and ensuring manufacturers comply with federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) No. 213 (child restraint systems). This is why NHTSA recently released a proposal to upgrade the federal motor vehicle safety standard for child-restraint systems to ensure child passengers are protected in side crashes. In the proposed rule the agency highlights instructions that the manufacturers would use to do the test correctly.”

According to the NHTSA, the side impact test would recreate a ‘T-bone’ crash. The front of one car driving 30 mph would hit the side of another car driving 15 mph.

In a news release, the NHTSA wrote: “The sled test is the first of its kind in the world being proposed for regulation, as it simulates both the acceleration of the struck vehicle and the vehicle door crushing toward the car seat. In addition to using an existing 12-month-old child dummy, the proposed test while also utilize a newly developed side-impact dummy representing a 3-year-old child”.

People have been given 90 days to comment about the NHTSA’s proposal. The last day for people to comment is Monday, April 28. After that day, the agency will review every comment received. They could do more testing or change sections of the proposal. If and when side impact testing is approved, car seat manufacturers would be given instructions on how to do the test properly and they would have up to three years to comply with the new standards.

“We’re thrilled there will be U.S regulations finally for side impact,” David Amirault, group brand manager for Safety 1st, said.

For a little more than ten years, Dorel Juvenile Group in Columbus, Ind., has been doing their own side-impact testing. In the past few years, they have recreated a near side hit.

“A lot of people even in Columbus don’t know that Dorel is here and the largest child restraint manufacturer in the world,” Terry Emerson, director of quality assurance child restraint systems and regulatory affairs said.

Because of the testing they have done at their own facility, the company added features to protect children from side-impact crashes. Dorel Juvenile Group is known for Air Protect and GCel. Many companies have done their own testing and added their own features to car seats.

“What we recreated here with Air Protect is the ability for when the child’s head makes contact that it slowly absorbs all that energy from that contact and actually uses the air to dissipate out,” Amirault said.

The company said the key for them was to replicate a door collapsing into the car seat. The company partnered with Kettering University to design a “side impact methodology.” According to the company, they sent the NHTSA a petition in 2009 to adopt what they are doing in Columbus as the new U.S. Standard. The NHTSA developed their own upgrades.

Dorel Juvenile Group believes it is similar to the NHTSA’s proposal.

“We are very close to the same methodology. It will take some differences. We’ll have to change some of our fixtures and that type of thing, but yeah we think we can get there,” Emerson said.

Employees at Dorel Juvenile Group are proud whenever they hear success stories about their car seats protecting children involved in crashes.

“For us to hear those stories–both positive and negative–are absolutely fuel for push,” Amirault said.

One of their success stories is Harry Miller, whose family was involved in a serious crash. Kara Miller, Harry’s mother, cannot forget what happened. The crash caused her to black out.

“I remember us spinning and I remember me saying `Jesus help us,'” Miller said.

The Millers were headed to Maryland from Illinois at night on March 3, 2012. They were in South Bend when they lost control on a patch of ice. According to authorities, there were more than 20 similar crashes in a two-hour span that same night.

“I don’t remember us slamming or anything…glass breaking,” Miller said.

Their Chevy Blazer hit a guard rail on the side. Most of the impact happened to Kara Miller’s door. Harry Miller was 7 months 0ld, seated behind his mom in a car seat. The car door partially caved in.

“You never want something to happen to your kids and it was (a) pretty scary moment,” Miller said.

Kara Miller said her son was not injured. She wrote Dorel Juvenile Group a letter thanking them. The company replaced her son’s car seat with Air Protect technology and kept the old seat.

After finding out the NHTSA proposed better protection for children against side-impact crashes, Miller said it was good to hear that.

“I feel like probably a regulation is a really good way so parents can sort of not have that on their plate, but know there (are) requirements that these things have to meet,” Miller said. “It’s great to hear companies that are (creating) products for kids that are kinda stepping up.”

“It’s having that peace of mind that there’s a product in the backseat that their child is in that has gone through all these different tests above and beyond to protect their precious cargo,” Amirault said.

FOX59 checked with the Indianapolis Fire Department in order to give parents more information about car seats and safety.

According to IFD, if a car seat was involved in a crash it needs to be replaced. There are various sites parents should navigate through, including Safecar.gov.

“It’s imperative that parents, care givers…put their child in child restraints that makes them much, much safer. Install them correctly. Use them. Some of the new technology will help, but the primary message is get your children in car seats and use them all the time,” Emerson said.

If you would like to read the NHTSA’s proposal, click here.

If you would like to read comments the NHTSA received about the proposal, click here.