Most booster seats don't provide 'good protection'

By Sarah Schmidt, Canwest News Service October 6, 2009 5:47 AM

OTTAWA — Fewer than half of the booster seats used in crash tests conducted by Transport Canada provided "good protection" for children when the vehicles were involved in moderate to severe impacts, newly released test results show.

The tests, which involved a frontal crash against a rigid barrier at speeds between 35 km/h and 60 km/h, found that 70 of 161 tests of different types of booster seats met Transport Canada's threshold for giving "good protection during a crash." This meant the shoulder belt stayed centered on the shoulder and the lap belt remained on the pelvis or hips of the child dummies.

Currently, booster seats, which are used for children who weigh at least 40 pounds, are evaluated in simulated crashes on a sled apparatus. Transport Canada emphasizes there have been no complaints or identified defects in any of the booster seats tested under its research program, but acknowledges certain types of designs performed better than others in frontal crashes. Booster seat performance is also affected by the type of vehicle and the shape and size of the child that it is intended to protect.

Meanwhile, 13 of 85 rear-facing infant car seats, designed for babies under the age of one, showed an "anomaly" during in-vehicle crashes using dummies — usually when the seat detached from the base upon impact.

These 13 red flags were clustered in crash tests of three models. One of the models was recalled voluntarily last year by Combi USA, while the other two remain on the market because the seats continue to meet Canada's child-restraint safety standards.

These are among hundreds of newly released videos of crash tests of infant car seats, forward-facing child restraints and booster seats. The crash tests, which exceed existing mandatory safety standards, were conducted by Transport Canada's road safety research branch between 2003 through to this year.

The department uses results of this research program to help update regulatory requirements for children's restraint systems and booster seats. In August, Transport Canada published its plan to bring in tougher seat regulations.

This process is running alongside a product review at Transport Canada, revealed in the newly released documents. The review of Dorel Juvenile Group's Maxi-Cosi Mico infant car seat was launched after the seat separated from its base in one of eight crash tests conducted in January.

Transport Canada has yet to conduct any more crash tests, but plans to do so because "one separation experienced during the research testing may or may not be the result of the seat not being installed correctly," the department said in a statement on Monday.

This review will likely take months and is the second Dorel car seat under review by Transport Canada in as many years, according to the brand breakdowns in the newly released crash tests.

In early 2008, Dorel's Designer 22 infant car seat, sold under the brands Safety 1st, Eddie Bauer and Cosco, separated from its base in five of 22 crash tests. When Dorel challenged the results, Transport Canada conducted further tests.

When the department "realized the company would not recall the Designer 22" after an "honest difference of opinion about what these tests meant," Transport Canada issued a consumer information notice in August 2009 that "highly recommended" parents not use the base of the infant car seat, but secure the seat directly to the vehicle using the three-point belt.

Transport Canada also emphasized this rear-facing car seat, designed to be used in a vehicle with or without a detachable base, still met Canada's safety standards.

Rick Leckner, a spokesman for the Montreal-based Dorel Distribution, which imports Dorel products for its parent company, said Dorel used the information from Transport Canada's crash tests to improve the Designer 22; the company released the improved model into the marketplace last March to be sold alongside inventory of the older model.

Dorel is also standing by its Maxi-Cosi Mico car seat.

"To date, we could not replicate that in house, we haven't had any incidents. The last we heard is they are doing additional testing to try and determine if, in fact, this was some type of flaw on their end, but at this point it's up to them to come back to us and show us indeed there is a problem, because as far as we're concerned, there is not," said Leckner.

In a summary of the crash test results, Transport Canada warns that they "should not be used to compare one product to another."

And the department "did not do these tests to rate, rank or endorse individual seats. Testing conditions represent some specific situations and not all possibilities."

Transport Canada's test of forward-facing car seats, designed for children aged one until they reach 40 pounds, showed that the forward-facing child seats "did an excellent job of protecting the child dummies in all kind of crash tests."

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

And for the record: NO! I was not one of the test dummies.