Transcript of Speeches for NHTSA’s Ease-of-use Press Conference 6/11/03

NHSTA Administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge

Thank you for coming today. I am pleased to see there is still tremendous interest in Child Safety in our country. I am happy to be here joining with my colleagues from the Consumers Union and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to discuss progress made in helping ensure the safety of our nation’s children.

On behalf of President Bush and DOT Secretary Norman Mineta, I am here to inform parents about another tool to keep children safe when riding in cars. And we are very pleased to host this event.

Today we are releasing the results of our new ease-of-use ratings for child safety seats. In developing these first ever ease-of-use ratings we examined five critical factors. Number one, is the child seat ready to use out of the box or do you have to put it together first? Number two, are the labels easy to read? Number three, is it easy to understand the instructions? Fourth, do the child safety seat features make it easy to install? And fifth, do the child safety seat features make it easy to secure the child in the seat?

In our ratings, we gave separate ratings for each use of the seat if it can be used for more than one age group or application….toddlers or larger children, each got a separate rating. NHTSA gave an overall “A” ratings to safety seats in more than 1/3 of the cases. About 2/3 earned an overall rating of “B”. Finally, several of the seats received a rating of “C” within each of the 5 rating categories. The specific ratings are listed in your press kits and are available to consumers starting today on the NHTSA web site.

Child safety seats can offer the best protection for our children, but only if they are correctly installed and correctly used. Vehicle manufacturers also play an important part in helping protect the nation’s children, by making vehicle seats that work well with child safety seats.

As many of you know, our new requirement for vehicles to have LATCH—Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children – is making child safety seat installation quicker and easier for parents than existed under the previously belt only configuration. When used properly we estimate that the LATCH system will save the lives of up to 50 additional children each year and prevent nearly 3,000 non-fatal injuries.

But the success of LATCH still depends on manufacturers to consider child safety in their vehicle designs. The work of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Consumers Union underscores that point. With thousands of possible combinations, literally thousands of combinations, of vehicles and seats, some isolated problems of compatibility between vehicles and child safety seats have been identified. But that, too, can be fixed with proper attention.

So it’s important that the vehicle manufacturers and the child restraint manufacturers work together to optimize the fit between child seats and vehicle seats. Meanwhile, our new rating system gives parents the information they need to make an informed decision about that child safety seat purchase. Those choices will drive market forces that encourage safety seat manufacturers to improve the ease-of-use to make sure that they are used and installed properly. Seats that are easy to use, easy to install should be in higher demand if consumers educate themselves. These ease-of-use ratings will help parents to do so.

Finally, a few well-warned but very, very important reminders. Children should always ride in the vehicle’s back seat. Every child under 8 years of old should be restrained in the correct child safety seat, every single time, before the wheels roll on every trip no matter the duration or the length. And older children, and indeed all Americans, should never ride unrestrained, regardless of the length of the trip.

So with that now I would like to introduce Dr. David Pittle from the Consumers Union. Dr. Pittle was the Technical Director for Consumers Union for about 19 years before becoming the Senior Vice President for Technical Policy about 2 years ago. Dr. Pittle has dedicated his career to advancing consumer interests, with special attention to reducing death and injury from consumer products. We are very pleased to have him here today with us representing Consumers Union.

Dr. Pittle………

Senior Vice President for Technical Policy for The Consumers Union Dr. Pittle

Thank You Dr. Runge, both for awarding us the opportunity to be here and for the work that you and your staff have done on improving the safety of child seats with these new ratings. The safety of children riding in cars is a paramount interest of all parents.

We’ve seen first hand through our tests at Consumers Union, that ease-of-use is a critical factor in the efficacy of the child safety seat. We’ve seen that properly putting a child in a car seat provides critical protection for our littlest and most vulnerable consumers.

The presence of these ratings is good news for parents who are always looking for better information to help them make a more informed choice in purchasing a product that protect our families. Helping consumers make informed choices through comparative product testing and ratings is a cornerstone of the work we do at Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.

Consumers Union has a long history of testing for child safety and particular evaluation of child restraints. We’ve been testing child safety seats, since the early 1970’s and regularly reporting the results to consumers. Nearly a decade before manufacturers were required to certify that their seats passed crash tests, Consumers Union was crash testing child restraints and pushing for more stringent Federal Standards.

Today Consumers Union regularly evaluates child seats for their crash protection, how easy they are to use and how easy they are to install in various types of vehicles, including sedans, SUVs, minivans, coupes. In addition to these child restraint ratings, every vehicle that we test at our 327-acre facility in East Haven, Connecticut, is evaluated for how easy it is to install a child seat. CU engineers install infant and convertible child restraints using both the LATCH system and the belt system, in every possible seat use and in every appropriate seating location in the vehicle. Our tests underscore how important it is for vehicles and the child restraints to be compatible to ensure maximum protection for the child.

We believe that our ratings are a valuable supplement to the important work that NHTSA is currently performing and releasing today. We’re very pleased to hear that Dr. Runge is going to meet with the vehicle and child restraint manufacturers to address some of the vehicle incompatibility issues that Consumers Union, IIHS and others have found in their own tests of these new lap seats. Like Consumers Union, NHTSA knows first hand the value of comparative ratings and improving the safety of consumer products. The NCAP crash test program has been a very successful tool in raising the bar for vehicle safety.

We hope this program enjoys similar success and we’re looking forward to working with all of you to meet our common goal, which is to increase safety of children in more friendly car seats. Finally, I want to underscore a message to all parents that Dr. Runge emphasized. Be sure to place your child in a child restraint whenever you’re traveling, no matter where you’re going and no matter how long it takes. Thank You

NHTSA Administrator Dr. Runge

Thank You Dr. Pittle………

Now it is my honor to introduce Dr. Adrian Lund from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. As the Chief Operating Officer for the Institute, Dr. Lund is truly one of our Nation’s foremost experts in highway safety.

From his broad range of experience he fully understands what we need to do to improve the safety of all Americans when on the roads, including the smallest ones that we are talking about today, our kids.

Following Dr. Lund’s remarks and any questions you might have, our real live NHTSA Child Passenger Safety technicians will be available here to give you hands-on demonstrations of the features we examined in deriving these ease-of-use ratings.

Dr. Lund……….

Chief Operating Officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Dr. Adrian Lund

Thank You Jeff…….

Good Morning, I am Adrian Lund and I’m Chief Operating Officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. I would like to thank Dr. Runge for including the Institute and also Consumers Union in today’s event announcing the Agency’s new Child Restraint Rating System.

This an excellent opportunity for us to brief you on a separate, but complementary activities our three organizations are undertaking to assure that child restraints are easy to use. Now NHTSA’s new rating system offers consumers important information about how well child restraint manufactures are implementing and explaining to their customers the new latch restraints. These ratings show much improvement in child restraint usability over previous systems, but also some areas in need of further improvement. Hopefully restraint makers will heed the Agency’s ratings and take appropriate steps to improve the restraints, so that all child restraints have all “As” in subsequent NHTSA evaluations.

An important next step, however is to evaluate how well the new LATCH restraints match up with the anchorage systems in actual cars. And that’s where the Institute’s research and also CU’s testing comes in. Our research does confirm that the new anchor requirements are making installation much, much easier. Before LATCH installing child restraints was always a struggle. Using the vehicle’s seat belt to install a child restraint was a difficult operation and it was easy for parents to install restraints incorrectly, or not tighten them properly, or in fact just plain get discouraged and quit trying.

With the new LATCH system parents should be more likely to install restraints in the cars correctly and with less effort. However, the Institute we also found that installation isn’t always a snap. Not all child restraints get easily in all vehicles. The problem is in the design of some vehicle seats makes it difficult to match the child restraint attachments with the anchors that are built into the seat. Automakers have some leeway in the placement of the anchors and vehicle seat designs vary from highly contour to flat and bench like. A child restraint that fits easily with one seat design may not fit very well, if at all, with another. This conclusion is from a study of ten vehicles representing a range of anchor point placement and seat design. They were selected to provide us that range. And a list of those vehicles is in the press packet. We then attempted to install 6 new child restraints representing the 3 available attachment designs. A rigid attachment, a flexible hook design and a sea-hook design, which are attached to like little belts on the child restraint.

The first that we noted is that the anchor points in some vehicles are readily visible. While in other cases they recessed into the seats. And what we found not surprisingly is that visible anchors generally made installation easier,….but not always. Child restraints with rigid attachments were among the easiest to install and remove, because they don’t have any straps to tighten. However, in some vehicles the rigid attachments were the most difficult to install, because they could not deal with the contour of the seats.

Overall, among the ten vehicles that we looked at, we found the easiest fits were in the Chevrolet Trail Blazer SUV, the Dodge Grand Caravan Minivan, and the Toyota Rav-4 SUV. In contrast it was difficult to secure any of the restraints in the Hyundai Santa Fe SUV or the Cadillac CTS Sedan.

Our researchers found other problems that were associated with top tethers, which prevent forward tipping of the child restraint in a crash. Now it’s important for parents to use tethers to optimize protection in a crash. But in some vehicles, especially some SUVs and Minivans, tethers could be difficult to use. Their not always clearly marked and attaching them in some cases requires folding down the seat first or removing the head restraint. And often times neither the owners manual for the child restraint or for the vehicle was very clear about this procedure.

Bottom line, LATCH has made proper child seat installation easier in most vehicles. There is no question about it. And we would expect therefore an increase in properly restrained children. NHTSA’s ratings show that ease ability is improving and they point consumers to child restraints that are easier to use. However, there still are incompatibilities, some vehicles seat designs do not work well with some child restraints even with LATCH. So things are much better, but before buying a LATCH child restraint parents still should make sure the restraint fits properly in the vehicle they drive. Or make sure they can return it for an exchange if it doesn’t fit.

I will be happy to after the question and answer period to demonstrate some of the things that we found with the various seats. Thank You