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Will a side impact test soon be required for car seats?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a new side impact crash test for car seats that would test the effectiveness of a car seat when subjected to a "t-bone" crash.

Madeline Hodek/AP/File
In this July 17 photo, a new car seat model made by Dorel Juvenile Group, on display, in Columbus, Ind., is inspired by Indy cars. Car seats may soon have to pass a side impact test.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking to upgrade standards for child car seats for children weighing up to 40 pounds to include a new test that simulates a side crash.

According to conservative NHTSA estimates, some five child deaths and injuries to 64 other children will be prevented each year if the new standards are implemented.

The NHTSA proposal would require the first-ever side impact test for child car seats sold in the U.S.

What the test entails

Under the proposal, the new tests use a specially-designed sled to test car seats and will simulate a “T-bone” crash, where the front of a vehicle traveling 30 mph strikes the side of a small passenger vehicle traveling 15 mph.

According to NHTSA officials, the car seats are positioned on a sled and another sled is used toram the side of the sled with the child car seat. This method is proposed since the aim of the testing is not to test vehicle crashworthiness.

The first-ever of its kind side-impact test simulates the both the acceleration of the struck vehicle and the vehicle’s door crushing inward toward the car seat.

The proposed test will use a 12-month old dummy already approved under NHTSA standards, but will add a newly-developed side-impact dummy that represents a 3-year-old child.

As the New York Times and other media outlets note, under the proposed rule, manufacturers of car seats would have to show that child safety seats can prevent a child’s head from hitting the door when the car is struck in the side, and reduce the crash forces submitted to the child’s head and chest. The current standard only addresses how well car seats must protect children during front crashes.

Public comment period

The public has 90 days to comment on the proposed regulations after they are published in The Federal Register. The new rules won’t be final until after the NHTSA has reviewed any comments and answered important issues that may be raised during the public comment period. At that time, the agency will consider whether to put the rule into effect as-is, or with changes.

Typically, this process takes months, or sometimes years. The NHTSA said they hope to move fairly quickly on the implementation of this new side-impact crash test rule. Manufacturers of child car seats would have three years to meet the new rules, starting from the date the ruling is made final.

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