Citing confusion over child safety seats in cars, federal officials said Thursday they plan to undertake a new education campaign for parents and upgrade rules for the seats.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration convened a meeting of automakers, car seat manufacturers and safety experts to discuss ways of improving the child safety seat system.
Participants noted that the variety of car seats and installation methods has led to confusion among parents.
"If you were a parent, your head would explode because there's just too much variation in the marketplace and not enough good guidance coming from government and industry," said the agency's head, Nicole Nason.
The meeting came less than a month after Consumer Reports retracted a report on infant car seats after agency officials said crash tests on the seats were conducted at drastically higher speeds than the magazine had asserted.
Following the magazine's report, government officials said hot lines were swamped with phone calls from parents worried their children might be unsafe in seats that the magazine said tested poorly.
Nason said following the daylong meeting that the government would pursue an education campaign this year to improve the public's understanding of car seats, upgrade its consumer ratings system for the seats and issue new rules to improve the system.
Safety advocates worry that too few parents know how to properly install car seats or understand the safety benefits.
A government study in December found that 40 percent of parents still use seat belts when installing the car seat instead of the system recommended by safety regulators — Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH.
"There's a lot of confusion still out there," said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Beginning in 2002, NHTSA required all new vehicles and child seats to have attachments designed to make them fit together like a key in a lock, without using a seat belt. It was developed to prevent a loose fit around the child and allow the upper tethers to reduce the tilting or rotation of the seat during a head-on collision.
Safety experts stressed that car seats in the back are the safest place for children in a vehicle. Every day, about five kids are killed and 640 injured in the United States in automobile crashes, and it remains the leading cause of death for children between the age of 3 and 14.
The government recommends car seats for children up to 40 pounds and booster seats for children 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.
Automakers and safety advocates suggested improving the labels near the anchors and tethers and making them more visible, improving public awareness and developing more uniformity in the placement of the attachments in the vehicle.
"This would make it more intuitive for customers to understand" the system, said Chris Tinto, Toyota Motor Corp.'s vice president for regulatory affairs.
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