On what criteria are child restraints rated for their Ease of Use?
Under the new 5-Star rating system, child restraints are given an overall ease-of-use rating from 1-star to 5-stars. The overall rating is determined from the grades the child restraint receives in each of five categories:
- Whether the restraint is pre-assembled or requires assembly after purchase.
- Clarity of the labeling attached to the restraint.
- Clarity of the written instructions on the restraint’s proper use.
- Ease of securing a child correctly in the restraint.
- Whether the seat has features that make it easier to install in a vehicle.
Is a child restraint with a higher Ease of Use Rating safer?
The Ease of Use rating does not compare the performance of different child restraints in the event of a crash. However, a child restraint is most effective if correctly installed in a vehicle and if the child is correctly secured in the restraint. A child restraint that is easier to use should have a lower misuse rate. Therefore it may be indirectly related to safety.
Why is consumer information for ease of use necessary?
NHTSA receives numerous complaints about how difficult child restraints are to use. The Ease of Use rating provides information to consumers to help them purchase a restraint that should be less difficult to use. The Ease of Use ratings programs will also motivate manufacturers to create child restraints that are easier to use.
What public benefit does NHTSA’s Ease of Use Ratings have?
NHTSA believes that it’s ease of use rating program will educate consumers about child safety seat features and which are easy to use as well as assist them in narrowing their choices by selecting the appropriate child safety seat for their needs.
We believe that this consumer information program will encourage child restraint manufacturers to produce child restraints with features that make it easier for consumers to use and, thereby, will lead to increased correct use of child restraints and increased safety for child passengers.
How should consumers interpret NHTSA’s Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings?
Because there are only three levels of ratings, it is possible that many of the seats a consumer may be considering will have the same overall Ease of Use rating. In this case, he/she will want to look at the ratings for each of the five categories and evaluate which of these categories are the most critical to them. For example, if they have never used a child restraint before the labeling and written instructions categories will be important as they will be placing more reliance on them to determine how to use the child restraint than someone who has used a number of child restraints. Or, if they are going to install the child restraint in a vehicle and leave it there, that category will be less important to them than someone who will have to be constantly moving the child restraint between a number of vehicles.
Should consumers care about Ease of Use Ratings if their vehicle has LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren)?
Yes. While NHTSA estimates that the LATCH system will significantly reduce the misuse associated with improperly installing a child safety seat, LATCH does not eliminate all mistakes and LATCH is only one element of many related to overall ease of use.
Consumers want to know what child restraint fits into their car -- can NHTSA’s program provide this information?
Because there are thousands of combinations of child restraints, vehicles and vehicle seating positions, providing "fit" information on specific makes of child restraints and models of vehicles on a large scale would be a monumental task and cost prohibitive. Implementing such a program would also not benefit the public in a timely fashion, thus would not allow for assisting in their purchasing decision.
While NHTSA’s rating program does not rate the actual installation of child safety seats into vehicles, NHTSA’s ease of use program does rate child seats on whether or not the seat’s features make it easy to use and install. Features rated include whether or not the vehicle belt path or the LATCH attachments interfere with adjusting the shoulder harness, the ease of routing the seat belt through the child seat belt path, whether the tether is easy to tighten and loosen, and whether the LATCH attachments can be released if installed in reverse.
Along with NHTSA’s new ease of use ratings and other continuing child safety education programs, NHTSA will continue to educate consumers about the need to make sure their child restraint fits in their vehicle before they purchase it and for assistance on properly installing their child safety seat they visit one of the thousands of child seat inspection stations across the country.
Does NHTSA rate the safety of child restraints?
Not presently. On May 23, 2005, NHTSA released a Notice of Final Decision on its pilot testing program in simulated crash situations to determine how well child restraints perform, as well as pilot testing in the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) to determine how well vehicles protect children. Based on an analysis of the data, the agency feels that a rating program based on sled testing would not provide practicable, readily understandable, or meaningful information to consumers. Furthermore, it is our belief that the current Ease of Use consumer information program provides consumers with sufficiently helpful and meaningful information when purchasing a child restraint.