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Car Seat Rating System Now Considers Ease of Use

Feb 6, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

New car seat ratings were introduced this week by the US Department of Transportation.  The Department said the new car seat rating system, which will take into account an infant or child safety seat’s ease of use, would help parents and caregivers make the best choice when buying car seats for their kids.

The government recommends car seats for children up to 40 pounds and booster seats for children over 40 pounds until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. All children should ride in the back seat until age 13.  

According to the Associated Press, the new car seat rankings will use a five-star rating system.  Ratings are based on the seats' ability to secure a child and the ease with which the seats are installed. It also considers seats' labeling and instruction manuals.

Child car seats are often difficult to install, a situation that causes many parents to place the seats in their vehicles incorrectly.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said seven in 10 child safety seats are either the wrong size or misused.  Improperly installed car seats can leave children at a serious risk of injury or death in the event of a crash.  When installed properly, the NHTSA estimates that child restraint systems reduce fatal injuries by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers in passenger cars and by nearly 60 percent for infants and toddlers in sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans.

The new system, which assigns an overall rating of up to five stars, replaces an older ratings program which used letter grades. The five-star rating system is also used in NHTSA's consumer crash test program for new cars and trucks. Critics of the old child car seat rating system said the old tests for car seats were far too easy.  Under the old letter grades, nearly every car seat tested received an “A” grade.

According to the Associated Press, the new ratings system does not assess how effective a seat is in protecting a child in a crash. All child seats must comply with federal safety standards to protect children in a car accident.

Parents or caregivers looking to purchase a car seat for their infant or child can visit the NHTSA’s website to check on a seat’s ease of use ratings.  The site rates rear facing infant seats, toddler forward facing seats, convertible seats and child booster seat.   The site also provides a link to help parents locate child safety seat inspection centers.  Those unsure as to whether or not a car seat is properly installed can visit an inspection center and have it checked by a certified child safety expert.


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