Children in Car Seats Vulnerable in Side Impact Car Accidents

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Side-impact car crashes can lead to catastrophic injuries, especially for children. Unlike the front or back of a car, the sides do not have the cushioning to absorb the impact of a collision and protect the occupants.  An average of eight inches of steel shields a child from harm in a side-impact car crash, according to Safety 1st, a company that specializes in child safety devices.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently proposed to tighten standards for child safety seats. Traffic safety researchers will evaluate how well various car seats protect children weighing up to 40 pounds from head trauma and other injuries in an accident involving a side impact collision. Car seats will undergo a so-called “sled test,” in which they will be placed on a sled going 15 miles per hour and struck by another sled at 30 miles per hour, simulating a “t-bone,” crash. In the past, federal crash standards have only required that car seats be tested for safety in accidents occurring from the front.

As part of improving the safety of car seats, regulators propose to test how well a car seat can protect a child when a car door is crushed from the side. To evaluate how age and size may play a role in the types of injuries sustained, the NHTSA proposes to use two crash-test dummies during testing – one to simulate a 12-month-old, and the other a three-year-old.

As part of the administrative rulemaking process, the NHTSA published the proposed rule in the federal register, allowing a 90-day comment period. The agency proposed car seat manufacturers would have three years to make design changes to any of car seat models after publication of the final rule. The agency estimates that the new crash-test standards could save five lives and prevent up to 64 injuries each year.

Keep Your Children Safe

Side-impact crashes can be particularly deadly for children because not only can crumpled vehicle parts smash into the child, but the violence of the impact can cause a child’s head to snap sideways.

You can still take steps to ensure that your child is protected in a side-impact crash.

Here are some tips from the Children’s Hospital:

  • Make sure your child is restrained in a car seat appropriate for his or her age, height and weight.
  • Do not place your child next to an active side airbag unless the vehicle manufacturer says it is safe.
  • Teach your child not to lean on the door where the airbag is stored.
  • If you drive a vehicle without a back seat (such as a pickup truck), the government requires an on/off switch for the front passenger airbags. If your child must ride in the vehicle, be sure to turn the airbag off. Remember to turn it on again when an adult or teenager rides in the car again.

In addition, automakers have developed testing procedures to assess whether their side airbag systems pose safety risks to children. The test is voluntary, but the NHTSA provides a list of vehicles that have met the specifications in its Buying A Safer Car for Child Passengers Guide.

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