NHTSA Will Finally Require Child Safety Seats to Protect in Side-Impact Crashes

NHTSA Will Finally Require Child Safety Seats to Protect in Side-Impact Crashes
  • the national highway traffic safety administration (nhtsa) will soon start requiring child safety seats to be tested in side-impact tests as well as the front-impact test already used.
  • congress asked nhtsa to come up with a rule like this more than 20 years ago, but better late than never, right?
  • in 2021, a group of 17 state attorneys general wrote a letter to nhtsa that said not having side-impact tests in place "unnecessarily endangers children on the road and does a huge disservice to families."

    it has taken longer than safety advocates, congress, and many state attorneys general wanted, but the national highway traffic safety administration (nhtsa) has finally issued a rule for updated side-impact crash tests involving child safety seats used on passenger vehicles. nhtsa was supposed have issued the rule in january.

    before the new rule, child safety seats were only required to prove their efficacy in tests that simulated 30-mph front impact crashes. the new rule adds a 30-mph side impact test, also known as a t-bone crash, to the list.

    test dummies "tossed around" in earlier testing

    the problem with the previous system, as cbs news and propublica reported in 2020, was that nhtsa gave some booster seats passing grades even though "the test dummies were violently tossed around during the tests," cbs news claimed this week. the problems cbs and propublica reported on led to a house oversight committee investigation that found that some booster seat manufacturers were “[endangering] the lives of millions of american children and misled consumers about the safety of booster seats by failing to conduct appropriate side-impact testing.” cbs published some dramatic footage of these crash tests.

    in july 2021, 16 state attorneys general and one from the district of columbia wrote to nhtsa about the administration’s failure to implement side-impact standards for child booster seats, even though congress had mandated such a rule over 20 years before. "as a result of nhtsa's inaction, there currently is no government standard for side-impact testing in the united states for any child restraint system," the attorneys general wrote. "the failure to promulgate side-impact testing standards unnecessarily endangers children on the road and does a huge disservice to families."

    seat makers have three years to comply

    nhtsa did say in 2014 that it would work on a side-impact rule for child seats, but it wasn’t until after all of this official and public pressure was applied that nhtsa finally made it official in a 265-page pdf. nhtsa now says child seats sold in the u.s. will need to "provide proper restraint, manage side crash forces, and protect against harmful head and chest contact with intruding structures." the child seats will also need to "withstand crash forces from a side impact without collapsing or fragmenting in a manner that could harm the child," nhtsa said.

    "side-impact collisions cause serious injuries and deaths in young children each year," nhtsa administrator steven cliff said in a statement. "by establishing more comprehensive testing requirements, we are advancing child passenger safety and assuring parents that the safety seat they choose for their child must meet the highest safety standards."

    the affected seats are those meant for children who weigh up to 40 pounds and are up to 43.3 inches tall (basically, kids up to around age four). previously, nhtsa regulations said children over 30 pounds could use simple booster seats instead of the safer child restraint systems under discussion here.

    child seat manufacturers will have three years to comply with the rule once it is officially published in the federal register and any petitions for reconsideration have been taken care of.