Making Sense of Car Seat Crash Test Ratings
Is your child safe in their car seat? You may look to car seat safety ratings to find out how safe your car seat is. But, car seat safety ratings are sometimes difficult to understand. Different types of ratings also measure different aspects of safety. Read more to better understand car seat ratings, their importance, and what safety information you should pay attention to.
Proper Use is the Most Important
While car crashes remain a key cause of preventable child deaths in the United States, the car seats themselves are not the problem. All car seats must pass the same federal crash tests in order to be placed on the market. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has strict performance standards which ensure that anything you purchase provides the protection your child needs.
The main problem with car seats is that parents fail to install or use them correctly. Research shows an estimated 73 percent of people do not properly use their car seats. Some common problems include:
- Not installing the seat properly or not installing it tight enough.
- Not securing the child tightly enough. You shouldn’t be able to get more than two fingers in between your child’s shoulders and the straps. If you can pinch any fabric on the straps at your child’s shoulders, then it is not tight enough.
- Allowing children to move to a forward-facing position too early. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you keep children rear-facing until they are at least two years old and longer than that if possible. Rear-facing reduces the amount of crash forces they absorb.
- Allowing children to wear too many layers or puffy coats in their car seat. This does not allow you to buckle your child in tightly to the seat, reducing the amount of protection the seat can provide.
- Moving children to a booster seat before they are ready. Most children are not ready for a booster seat until they are at least five years old and 40 pounds. Wiggly, immature children need to be restrained with a five-point harness. Most children should use the five-point restraint until they meet the maximum height and weight specifications.
- Not securing forward-facing seats with the tether system. These seats need the tether system to keep your child from having their head thrust too far forward in a crash.
Not sure if your car seat is installed properly? Need to make sure your child is in the right car seat? Most hospitals and fire stations have staff members who can provide a free safety check. You can also read more information from the NHTSA.
Even though all car seats are safer when properly used, safety ratings are still useful. They can help you determine how easy it is to use or install the car seat. Two of the more well-known ratings come from the NHTSA “Ease of Use Evaluation” and Consumer Reports.
NHTSA “Ease of Use” Ratings
The NHTSA rates car seats on the following “ease of use” features:
- Clarity of the instruction manual on how to use the seat
- The ease of using the features needed to install the car seat
- The content and clarity of the labels on the seat
- The ease of properly securing a child in the seat
Based on this examination, the NHTSA gives a rating on a five-star scale. Five stars mean that the seat provides excellence in every category, while one star means the seat rated poorly in all or the majority of the categories. You should note that these ratings are only based on how easy it is to properly use the car seat, not on how the car seat holds up in a crash. The NHTSA already provides federal crash testing, which determines which seats can be sold.
See more about how the NHTSA evaluates car seats.
Consumer Report Ratings
Consumer Reports is an independent company that provides consumer testing and research for a variety of products. They do not accept any advertising and are not affiliated with any company or political party.
Consumer Reports created their own crash test for their own rating purposes. The government uses different crash tests. Consumer Reports purports that their crash tests are more comprehensive than those used by the federal government. While not all of the differences between tests are known, some include:
- Using a stiffer seat than the one used in federal crash tests. As newer vehicles come out with stiffer seats, Consumer Reports is attempting to match the type of cars most parents are or will be driving.
- Using a padded blocker in front of the dummy child. Federal crash tests have an open space in front of the dummy, but Consumer Reports uses a padded blocker to mimic the front seat that sits in front of a forward-facing child or the back seat that sits in front of a rear-facing child.
Consumer Reports then combines their crash test with “ease of use” evaluations. The categories they evaluate include:
- How much assembly is required.
- Harness and crotch strap adjustments. They look at how much is required and how easy it is.
- Chest clip closure.
- The LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) connection style. Some use push-on connectors while others use more difficult-to-use hooks.
- Belt path accessibility.
- The clarity of labels and instructions.
The Car Seat Lady provides a more comprehensive understanding of these categories here.
Parents should keep in mind that these “ease of use” score can boost the overall rating for a seat that has a lower crash rating. There are multiple seats with lower crash test ratings that have higher scores than those with better crash test ratings because the researchers found them easier to use.
Read more about Consumer Reports ratings.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that all car seats on the market are safe for your child. If you use the car seat properly, it will provide the protection your child needs. Therefore, you should look for a car seat that is easy to install and ensure your child is properly secured in it. Using safety ratings can help you determine which car seat might be easiest for you to properly use.
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