Fully six in ten Americans say they would buy a car seat. On the other hand, a poll recently found that only 11 percent of car seat manufacturers have a vested interest in what is known as passenger’s preference testing. The belief that government should regulate car seats to ensure they best meet customers’ preferences is widespread.
At our 2015 Transportation Research Board meeting last week, I presented several short papers on federal government oversight of car seats and child safety seats. However, beyond these issues, I was especially interested in the data showing that regulation is no cure-all for current concerns about testing and consumer confusion around recall status of certain products.
With standards for crash safety, seat boosters and other vehicle accessories, federal standards by themselves cannot ensure that these products meet a customer’s preferences. Besides, it is often difficult for companies and regulators to agree on appropriate testing and how often to test new products.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 43 percent of car seats installed by consumers are installed improperly; that is, less than 25 percent are installed in the proper space, or the required height, by adults other than the child’s parents. When serious crash injuries occur, 61 percent of the injuries require pediatric care. However, car seats and booster seats may not always be effective in preventing serious harm.
Following major recalls, we all know how quickly things can change. ProPublica, for example, analyzed NHTSA’s recall list for 2012–14 and found that some of the largest recalls resulted in brand new vehicles being sold that day after the older vehicles had been recalled due to safety defects.
However, this situation is not unique to car seats or other products. Recall priorities change each year.
While I am concerned that federal regulations may not adequately address these issues, I encourage our Committee to put questions about oversight at this week’s hearing on our agenda.
Ken Schwencke is President and CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, a 501(c)(3) public charity that provides pediatric healthcare to children in Orange County. The opinions expressed are his own. He earned his Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine in 1977 from the United States Marine Corps Medical College and his certification as a Pain Medicine Specialist in 1978 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He is the founder of the Orange County Dept. of Health Education and Health Counseling and the Children’s Hospital Program for Immune System Disorders.