It wasn't long ago that babies rode home from hospitals in their mother's arms — often in the front seat — and older children were similarly unrestrained. But that was before we knew better. Since 1985, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have been requiring and tweaking safety restraints for young children, and child deaths in car crashes have plummeted. Still, motor vehicle crashes represent a leading cause of death for children and youth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Part of the reason could be because most car seats only protect children in frontal collisions.
Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing new regulations to require child car seats hold up in a T-bone collision of up to 30 mph, prevent head contact with an intruding vehicle door and reduce crash forces to a child's head and chest. In what is surely a conservative estimate, federal officials say the proposed changes could save five lives a year and prevent 64 injuries.
The new regulations will likely go into effect after a 90-day public comment period, and car seat makers would likely have up to three years to adapt their products. Until then, parents should make the highest, most effective use of the equipment they have. That starts with making sure car seats are installed properly and driving safely.