Parents who struggle to install child safety seats in their cars or to put toddlers in them securely will receive some new guidance from the government.
The Transportation Department said Wednesday that it was revamping a consumer ratings system for child safety seats to help parents make the best choice when buying one.
The new approach will use a five-star rating system, based on the ability to secure a child in a seat and the ease with which the seats are installed. It also will consider labeling and instruction manuals.
“We believe that the new star system will help simplify one of parents’ most important decisions: choosing the best safety seat that will protect their children,” said Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.
Many parents can attest to the frequent frustration found in securing a car seat or making sure their child is strapped in securely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 7 in 10 child safety seats are either the wrong size or misused, reducing their ability to protect children.
“If one of these things is difficult to use, even if someone buys one, they may not be willing to switch them among cars . . . because they remember what a pain they were to install,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “If we get seats that are easier to install, then it’s more likely that people will use them.”
When used properly, the seats are very effective. NHTSA estimates that child restraint systems reduce fatal injuries by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers in passenger cars, and by nearly 60% for infants and toddlers in sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans.
Transportation officials stressed that the new ratings system does not assess how effective a seat is in protecting a child in a crash. All child seats must comply with federal safety standards to protect children in the event of an accident.
The government recommends car seats for children up to 40 pounds and booster seats for those over 40 pounds until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. All children should ride in the back seat until age 13.
The new system, which assigns an overall rating of as many as five stars, replaces an older ratings program that used letter grades. The five-star rating system is also used in NHTSA’s consumer crash test program for new cars and trucks.