You secure your baby in a car seat and expect it to keep your little one as safe as possible. But alarming new findings reveal that most of the popular infant-only car seats tested in a laboratory by Consumer Reports flunked "disastrously."
Twelve rear-facing infant-only car seats were put through much tougher tests by the magazine than those the federal government conducts to set the safety standards for all car seats. (Infant-only seats have carriers that snap into a base and are designed for babies up to 20 to 22 pounds — about 10 kilograms — or more, depending on the model.)
Ten of the 12 seats tested "provided poor protection in some or all of our tests," with many being mangled, rotated, or skyrocketed off their bases, according to an article published in the February issue.
Several models failed all of Consumer Reports' "tough tests" — Graco SafeSeat, Evenflo Discovery, and Britax Companion (once the magazine's "top-rated seat based on earlier tests that mirrored the federal standard"). Only two of the seats — Baby Trend Flex-Loc and Graco SnugRide with EPS — performed well, passing all of the tests.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests car seats in head-on crashes at 30 miles per hour (mph). Most new cars are also tested in frontal collisions at 30 and 35 mph and in side-impact crashes at 38 mph. But the NHTSA does not test car seats at speeds above 30 mph or in side-impact collisions. Consumer Reports, however, put the infant-only seats to the test using side-impact crashes and frontal crashes at speeds above 30 mph.
The magazine also reports that using LATCH (which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) isn't necessarily the safest way to install a car seat — most of the seats tested actually did better with the vehicle's safety belts than with LATCH. The LATCH installation system was mandated by the government in September 2002 as an alternative to installing car seats with seatbelts and is now standard in all new vehicles.
What This Means to You
Children should still always be placed in a properly installed car seat for every ride. Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of kids under the age of 14, and the use of car seats has helped to decrease the collision-related death rate in children from birth to age 4 by almost 50% since 1975. Car seats can reduce an infant's risk of death in a crash by 71%.
To help keep your baby as safe as possible when en route, here are some car seat rules of thumb to remember:
- Avoid second-hand seats — they may have been recalled or involved in a crash.
- Carefully read the owner's manuals for both your car seat and your car to figure out how to properly install the seat.
- Consumer Reports recommends sending in your car seat's registration card so the manufacturer can you let you know about any recalls.
- Always have your car seat checked by a certified child passenger safety technician once it's installed. Look for a free car seat inspection station at seatcheck.org, usa.safekids.org, or nhtsa.gov, or by calling (866) SEATCHECK or your local hospital, police, or fire department.
- Always put your baby in a car seat in the back seat (in the middle if possible).
- Keep your baby's car seat in a rear-facing position until your infant is at least 1 year old and 20 pounds (and longer, if the seat's manual says it can hold babies at a higher weight and height).
- Remember that pricier doesn't always mean better. The safest car seat for your baby is the one that best fits your infant's weight, size, and age, as well as your vehicle.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2007