The Dangers of Child Car Seats and Seat Belts

Sep 6, 2019 | Defective Products, Illinois Attorney

Keefe, Keefe & Unsell, PC, personal injury lawyers in Belleville, IL, wanted to bring this item to the attention of the parents we serve.

Understanding the Dangers of Side Impact and Child Car Seats

Car seats. They are necessary and they save lives. Nobody will dispute that.

If you are the parent of a young child, you’ve probably buckled that chest harness hundreds, if not thousands, of times. And with each snap of the buckle, your confidence grew — knowing that if, god forbid, you were to get into an accident, your most precious little guy or gal would be protected. 

That sense of security is a good thing.

But we want to warn you about something that is going on at the federal level, so we can all push for changes that will increase that feeling of comfort when we buckle our little ones in.

You’ve probably noticed the growing number of car seat manufacturers making claims about side-impact safety features in their products. But did you know that these claims go largely unchecked?

There’s actually no federal safety standard for testing child car seats in side-impact crashes, even though Congress has been urging the Department of Transportation to address the issue for nearly two decades.

According to ProPublica, which reported recently on yet another delay in these long-awaited standards, the federal department has only cryptically said that “additional research and data analysis (is) necessary.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates car seats, declined comment to reporters. 

NHTSA is also three years behind on developing an updated rule for child restraints in frontal crashes.

According to ProPublica, car seat manufacturers have pushed for updating both standards at the same time to reduce costs that are passed along to the consumer. 

It is a delay tactic, and it’s working.

This was the thrust of the industry’s argument in January 2014, when NHTSA finally issued a proposed standard that would require side-impact testing in all seats designed for children up to 40 pounds.

After those complaints, the requirement was indefinitely postponed.  

Now, front-seat tests aren’t due to be updated until after 2020. And we’re getting radio silence on the side-impact testing.  

So here we are. 

Let’s pause, and consider a few facts:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are a leading killer of children, with 794 child passengers age 14 and younger dying in car crashes in 2017, according to NHTSA.
  • While frontal collisions are far more common, side impact or “T-bone” collisions can be far more deadly. 

Are we really going to let manufacturers decide on their own what is best for the safety of citizens, when they have an inherent conflict due to their desire to keep costs down and make money? Sadly, the answer may be yes.

Prizing Industry Concerns Over Consumer Needs

Industry pressure. Delayed regulatory action. Safety gaps left to linger. Sound familiar?

This is *exactly* what happened with the Fisher-Price Rock ‘N Play sleepers before they were finally recalled in April after being linked in a Consumer Reports investigation to the deaths of at least 32 infant deaths across the country. 

The inclined surface, it turns out, allows a baby’s head to drop into a dangerous position where the airway is compromised. In some cases, infants have also flipped inside the seat and suffocated. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is required to write federal safety rules for infant products like highchairs and cribs, hasn’t yet issued guidelines for inclined sleepers, even though it has established guidelines for bassinets requiring an incline of 5 percent or less.

Why? Because the CPC has cowed to pressure from manufacturers, who complained that rockers with inclines greater than 10 percent, like the The Rock N’ Play, should be treated as their own class of products. 

Crazy, right? Instead of forcing the manufacturer to change the product to fit the safety standards, regulators rewrote the safety standards to fit the product. 

We blogged about the Fisher Price situation earlier this summer and it’s disheartening that we have to return to a similar topic so soon. Especially given that we are talking, once again, about a class of products that are ubiquitous in nearly every household with children.

Time to Up the Safety Ante

We have reliable and effective means for testing the safety of products that are marketed to consumers. 

But a lack of accountability reigns over our regulatory processes.

Too often, we hear of regulators favoring industry concerns over the safety of the consumer — and it is leading to tragic results.  

So what does this have to do with our law firm?

We haven’t had a car seat case yet in our office. But it’s only a matter of time until we do. Trust us. 

And when that day comes, we want to be able to do the very best for our client or clients. 

We also have children and grandchildren of our own. We want to know they will be safe in their car seats. 

Putting proper regulations and standards in place ups the safety ante. And that gives us more tools in our toolbox when a manufacturer decides to intentionally or negligently flout the rules.

Again, we are talking about our most vulnerable citizens. Our babies.

Why is this so hard?

Car seats are necessary. Car seats save lives. Until they don’t.


Products liability laws are in place to protect consumers from defective and dangerous products of all types, ranging from contaminated food items to prescription drugs that pose unacceptable health risks, and from toys to automobiles and industrial equipment. Proving that a design or manufacturing defect caused serious injury or a wrongful death is a critical aspect of many civil lawsuits, and it’s something we specialize in. Call or email us today to speak with a caring, dedicated lawyer about your case. We can help you achieve compensation AND will hold the company responsible for any harm — past or future.

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