Washington — The Obama administration is proposing rules to protect small children in car seats from side crashes, 14 years after Congress urged federal officials to consider setting such standards.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing the first-ever side-impact test for car seats sold in the U.S. that are designed for children weighing up to 40 pounds. The agency estimates the proposal would save five lives and prevent 64 injuries annually.
“As a father of two, I know the peace-of-mind this proposed test will give parents,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement Wednesday. “We all want to make sure our children’s car seats are as safe as possible, and today’s proposal will give parents and car seat makers important new data on how car seats perform in side crashes.”
Under the proposal, car seats would undergo a simulated a “T-bone” crash, in which the front of a vehicle traveling 30 mph strikes the side of a small passenger vehicle traveling at 15 mph. The test 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 test will use a newly developed side-impact dummy representing a 3-year-old child.
Congress in November 2000 sought rules to protect young children from side collisions, but gave the federal agency the discretion to not issue the rules if it decided. In May 2002, the agency issued a notice seeking public comments on the its work on developing near-term a possible side-impact protection standard for child restraint systems.
The agency looked at side-impact protection for children in child restraints, but opted not to go forward, saying it was “difficult for the agency to assess and make judgments on the benefits and costs of a rule-making on side-impact protection.”
The government has been testing child safety seats since 2003. In the proposed test simulating a side-impact vehicle crash, car seats must demonstrate they can safely restrain a child by preventing harmful head contact with an intruding vehicle door and reduce the crash forces transmitted to the child’s head and chest.
Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman told reporters it was very complicated creating a side-impact test for child seats. He said the rule was cost-effective, adding just 50 cents to the price of a car seat, or about $3.7 million for the industry. He said many seats already meet the proposed requirements. “This rule is a rule that’s going to save lives,” Friedman said.
Some car seat producers will have to add padding or increase the size of the side wings to meet the standards. Friedman said NHTSA is also working on possible rear crash protection for child safety seats.
“Car seats are an essential tool for keeping young children safe in vehicles and have a proven track record of saving lives,” said Friedman. “Today we continue to build on our extensive child seat safety program by adding side-impact crash protection for the first time.”
The new rules are expected to take effect three years after a regulation is finalized following public comments for 90 days.