Last year Consumer Reports changed their crash testing criteria used to evaluate rear facing only seats. This year, they have expanded that testing to convertible seats. From the Consumer Reports website, “Changes from the way that convertible seats were rated previously include using a test bench that better simulates the vehicle seat design from a contemporary vehicle, with more representative cushion stiffness and seat geometry and incorporation of a “blocker” to simulate a front seatback. The new test also runs at a higher 35mph speed, with other representative dynamic characteristics that better simulate the behavior of contemporary vehicles during a crash.”
This sounds like good news, but can be very confusing for parents. Here are a few things we would like you to know about the ratings.
1. We don’t know what, if any, difference this additional protection would make in real world crash data. We know that variables like the vehicle the car seat is installed in can affect performance. Consumer Reports used a 2010 Ford Flex captain’s chair for their testing. While this does more closely match current vehicles over the old test bench, results won’t be identical in other vehicles. When used and installed properly, we know all car seats are safe and offer optimum protection to Littles and not so Littles alike. Choosing a child restraint that fits the child, fits the budget, and can be used and installed properly every time are still the most important things when picking a new car seat.
2. 35 mph crash tests are more severe than the majority of crashes. This is the equivalent of driving head-on at 35 mph into a car also moving 35 mph, or like hitting a concrete barrier. Even the 30 mph required for federal car seat testing is considered a severe crash.
3. Price doesn’t equal safety. If anything, the Consumer Reports results show that more expensive doesn’t always mean safer. Using and installing a seat properly will offer good protection in a crash. All seats are safe when used properly. The Consumer Reports model is based on the idea that some seats offer additional protection over others. This may be true, but we just don’t know. Crash test results are not released to the general public and currently, crash test requirements in the US are very stringent, meaning any car seat sold offers great protection (when used and installed properly) in the event of a crash.
4. There’s no reason to rush out and buy a Consumer Reports Membership. Using the guidelines from above will help when choosing a new car seat. Following best practice recommendations further increases protection and is the best tool for keeping kids as safe as possible. Purchasing a seat with a higher Consumer Reports Rating that won’t allow a child to rear face as long as possible, or doesn’t fit properly in the vehicle, is counter productive. Our recommended seat list can be a good jumping off point to narrow down seat choices of all types.
5. Consumer Reports raised concerns in their article that children in rear facing only seats may be at a greater risk of head strike on the front vehicle seat after age 1. This is an arbitrary age as we know not all 1 year olds are the same size. Some children will outgrow rear facing only seats before 1, some won’t until after age 2. It’s important to note that at 22 lbs. and 29″ tall, the dummy used to make this determination is at the limits of many rear facing only seats. If a child is within the limits for the rear facing only seat, and the seat is used properly, there is no cause for alarm. Please don’t feel like transferring to a convertible right away is required if the child fits properly and the seat meets the needs of the caregivers. Also keep in mind though, rear facing only seats are outgrown in three different ways. Once a child hits the weight limit, standing height limit, OR head is within an inch of the top of the car seat, the seat is outgrown and they must move to a rear facing convertible, especially if under the age of 2. We recommend selecting your child’s next seat before it is absolutely outgrown. This allows time to research which seat would work best for the child, vehicle, and budget.
6. Consumer Reports has maintained that even car seats that received a Basic crash test rating, as opposed to Better and Best, are still considered safe and performed well overall. There is no reason to stop using the current car seat or to purchase a new one if the child still fits the limits of the seat.
While we applaud Consumer Reports for trying to make choosing a car seat easier for caregivers, we would caution against using their data as the sole source of research when choosing a new seat. All car seats are safe when used and installed properly and we encourage caregivers to focus on a seat that fits the child, budget, and can be used properly every single ride.