NHTSA Proposes New Rule for First Ever Side Impact Testing of Child Restraint Systems

Eli Meir Kaplan for Home Front CommunicationsNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a new proposal for the first-ever side impact testing for child restraint systems.  The NHTSA estimates that the proposal would save 5 lives and prevent 64 injuries annually.

How big is the problem?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, more than 1,200 children ages 14 and under died as an occupant in a motor vehicle crash.  Another 171,000 children ages 14 and under were injured in crashes.  And, the NHTSA has reported that injuries suffered in a motor vehicle crash are the leading cause of death amount children in the United States.  The NHTSA went on to state that “children who are correctly using the appropriate restraint for their sizes and ages are at a significantly lower risk of sustaining serious or fatal injuries.”

The NHTSA’s proposed rule

Child 2The NHTSA has proposed new testing protocols and requirements for child restraint seats.  The new test requirements would include the first-ever side impact tests for car seats sold in the United States that are designed for use by children up to 40 pounds.  The proposed test would simulate a side-impact vehicle crash and would require car seats to demonstrate they can safely resist harmful head contact with an intruding vehicle door and reduce the crash forces transmitted to the child’s head and chest.

The newly designed test would simulate a T-bone crash where the front of a vehicle traveling 30 miles per hour impacted the side of a small passenger vehicle traveling at 15 miles per hour.  The test protocols calls for the test to be completed with an existing NHTSA crash test dummy representing a 12 moth old child as well as a newly developed crash test dummy representing a 3 year old child.

How will the new requirements affect the design of child restraint seats?

The NHTSA indicates that it believes the design of child restraint seats currently used in the United States are “generally already remarkable effective in reducing the risk of death and serious injury in side impacts.”  Manufacturers increased use of side structure coverage (often called wings) and the use of increased stiffness in the side padding are positive developments in protecting our children.  The new testing requirements will provide a quantifiable assessment of the protection afforded by these design features and ensure that the wings, padding and other safety features in car seats provide a minimum level of protection in side impacts to reduce the risk of injury or fatality.

The NHTSA has issued the proposed rule and opened it for public comment.  If the proposed rule was to become effective, manufacturers would have to comply with any new requirements within three years of publication of the new rule.

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