Earlier this month, Consumer Reports released new infant seat ratings from its latest test protocol based on crash testing, ease-of-use, and fit-to-vehicle. After testing 34 commercially available infant seats, the consumer advocates group classified five seats as “basic,” 16 as “better,” and 13 as “best.” The classification of various infant seats may leave parents wondering if their “basic” rated child seat is still safe to use. Below are a few points to consider.
Consumer Reports only tested infant seats that are commercially available, meaning that all of the seats meet the current federal safety standard (FMVSS 213). Therefore, a Consumer Reports rating of “basic” does not mean that the seat is unsafe, only that it did not offer what Consumer Reports is calling “an additional margin of safety” (based on the standards of their testing protocol). Federal regulations on safety products establish performance standards that ensure a baseline level of safety and protection.
This new rating system for infant child seats is analogous with popular rating systems for motor vehicles. Consumers often look to additional information to make informed choices. When purchasing a motor vehicle, it’s common practice for consumers to reference the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) “Top Safety Picks.” These ratings reflect the performance of vehicles in tests that evaluate additional aspects of a vehicle’s safety beyond what is tested in the regulation. In fact, even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) who oversees the federal safety regulations has its own supplementary testing protocol – the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) – or more commonly known as the ‘Five Star Safety Ratings Program.’ Having these types of supplementary tests provides incentives to auto manufacturers to design safer vehicles that pass a broader matrix of safety tests. NCAP and the IIHS Top Safety Pick program have stimulated advances in vehicle safety; it is the goal that the Consumer Reports rating system will do the same for child restraints.
While extraordinary strides have been made in traffic safety (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month a 43% decrease in motor vehicle deaths among children 12 and under in the past decade), there is still work to be done. There were over 650 fatalities among children 12 years and under in motor vehicle crashes in 2011 and one in three children who died were not restrained. Advances like the Consumer Reports infant seat ratings are valuable tools in helping to identify safety gaps and better address them through technology, innovation, and education. Consumer Reports’ new test protocol could be an important first step in fueling a new wave of innovation and safety advances for child safety seats- and, ultimately, bringing us one step closer to “zero fatalities.”