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Are Car Seats Safe?

Car Seat Basics


Updated March 27, 2011

Car Seat Mistakes (the harness clip is too low)

Car Seat Mistakes (the harness clip is too low)

Renee Lee
Are car seats safe? Experts have known for years that many parents use their car seats incorrectly, making common mistakes that make them less safe then they can be.

Car Seat Mistakes

Common car seat mistakes include installing the car seat incorrectly and:
  • placing a child in the wrong car seat or wrong position in the car, for example forward facing versus rear facing
  • putting car seat harness straps in the wrong position or allowing them to be too loose
  • putting the harness chest clip in the wrong position
  • not using the LATCH system correctly
  • taking a child out of his booster seat and putting him into regular seat belts before he is ready
  • letting kids ride in the front seat before they are old enough
Out Car Seat Inspector and Car Seat Safety Guide can help you figure out if you are using your child's car seat correctly.

Car Seat Safety Alert

Even if you are using your car seat correctly though, there are some new concerns that it may not be as safe as you think. Consumer Reports recently tested 12 infant car seats and put them through the same crash tests that are used for most new vehicles. These crash tests are more vigorous than current car seat crash tests and the majority of the car seats did not perform well.

That doesn't mean that you should stop using your car seat! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that:

  • car seats are '71% effective in reducing deaths for infants and 54% effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 years'
  • 'belt-positioning booster seats reduce the risk of injury by 59% for children ages 4 through 7 years'
But in addition to correctly using a car seat, we should insist that manufacturers make safer car seats for our children. In the Consumer Reports testing, they found that a European model for one manufacturer's car seat performed much better than the model that was sold in the United States.

Car Seat Controversy

Since the initial Consumer Reports' article, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has stated that 'our initial review of the Consumer Reports testing procedures showed a significant error in the manner in which it conducted and reported on its side-impact tests. The organization’s data show its side-impact tests were actually conducted under conditions that would represent being struck in excess of 70 mph, twice as fast as the group claimed. When NHTSA tested the same child seats in conditions representing the 38.5 mph conditions claimed by Consumer Reports, the seats stayed in their bases as they should, instead of failing dramatically.'

Consumer Reports has since withdrawn their initial report until further testing can be done and they can republish the article.

While many professional organizations were dismissing the findings from Consumer Reports from the beginning, if it highlights that car seats can be safer, then it is an important safety alert that everyone should think more about, especially as they rebulish their report.

Better car seats, if they are needed, will likely only come if we insist on tougher federal safety standards and more vigorous testing standards. The American Academy of Pediatrics has responded to the Consumer Reports study by saying that 'current standards for testing of car safety seats are useful and rigorous but that the standards can and should be improved continually. In addition, car safety seat manufacturers should strive to enhance the safety of their products on an ongoing basis.'

It will also be interesting to see if Consumer Reports does a similar study on car seats for older children and booster seats too see how they perform.

Safest Infant Car Seats

Although you don't need to go out and buy a new car seat if you already have one, if you are planning to buy a new car seat for your baby, keep in mind that only two infant car seats passed the Consumer Reports testing, including the Baby Trend Flex-Loc and the Graco SnugRide with EPS. Keep in mind that Consumer Reports does recommend that you 'suspend judgment on the merits of individual products until the new testing has been completed and the report re-published.'

And no matter which car seat you have, getting a car seat inspection can also be a good way to make sure you have a safe car seat and that you are using it properly.


American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant Passenger Safety: Guidance for Parents

Consumer Reports. February 2007. Infant Car Seats. Safety Alert.

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