After missing its own deadline, NHTSA announces side-impact crash-test standard for child car seats

After missing its own January 2022 deadline, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Wednesday announced its long-delayed side-impact crash-test standard for child car-seats.

“Side-impact collisions cause serious injuries and deaths in young children each year,” said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff. “By establishing more comprehensive testing requirements, we are advancing child passenger safety and assuring parents that the safety seat they choose for their child must meet the highest safety standards.”

The new crash-test rules come after a series of reports by ProPublica and CBS News in 2020 found some booster seats received a passing grade during side-impact crash tests — despite the fact that the test dummies were violently tossed around during the tests. 

The ProPublica/CBS News reports prompted a House Oversight Committee investigation that found booster seat-makers “endangered the lives of millions of American children and misled consumers about the safety of booster seats by failing to conduct appropriate side-impact testing.” Further, the committee found that seat-makers had deceived consumers with “false and misleading statements … about their side-impact testing protocols” and had unsafely recommended that children under 40 pounds and as light as 30 pounds may use booster seats.”

“Parents are relying on companies to sell safe products and they’re relying on the federal government to regulate those products,” Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi told CBS News in December 2020. “And unfortunately, neither of those two things happened, and that is disgraceful.”

The committee’s report called on state attorneys general to launch consumer-protection investigations. In July 2021, the attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia wrote a letter to federal regulators demanding they create a side-impact crash-test standard and come up with better labeling standards for children’s car seats.

NHTSA calls its new requirements a “major advance” in protecting children from serious injury in traffic crashes. It updates the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard by adding performance requirements for child safety seat testing in a simulated 30-mph “T-bone”-type side-impact collision. The new standard will mirror the requirements for a child’s car seat in 30-mph frontal-impact crash.

Child seats will be evaluated using a newly developed test dummy representing a 3-year-old child and an existing dummy that simulates a 12-month-old, according to the safety regulator.

Last summer, NHTSA told CBS News it intended to issue the new safety rules by January 2022. Additional regulations would follow, aimed at reducing early transitions to forward-facing car seats and booster seats as well as policies to improve correct installation of car seats.

Since at least 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended children weigh at least 40 pounds before transitioning to a booster seat. Canada has had the weight recommendation since 1987, but U.S. regulators still allowed for children weighing as little as 30 pounds to use a booster seat.

“There is not a scenario in which I would ever want to see a child under 40 pounds in a booster seat. It’s just not necessary,” Dr. Ben Hoffman, a lead author of car seat recommendations for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told “CBS This Morning” in December of 2020.

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