Reacting to a directive from Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday that it would propose changes to a federal vehicle safety standard that would require new child car seats to be safer in side-impact crashes. The new rule would apply to car seats sold in the United States that are designed for children weighing up to 40 pounds. The current standard addresses only how well car seats must protect children in front crashes.

The announcement was made by David Friedman, acting administrator of the safety agency, at the SAE International Government/Industry Meeting at the Washington Auto Show.

"In the big picture, this is a great thing," said Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, whose responsibilities include the child-restraints program. As it stands now, parents have only marketing claims to go by, and a federal standard would give consumers more assurance that all car seats comply with the same minimum level of performance, she said.


The agency estimates that the regulation will save five lives and prevent 64 injuries each year. The proposed rule will be published in The Federal Register, and members of the public and manufacturers will be able to submit comments for 90 days. Then, the agency will consider whether to adopt the rule as-is or with changes.

Under the proposed rule, car-seat manufacturers would have to show that child-safety seats can keep a child's head from hitting the door when the car is struck in the side, and reduce the crash forces transmitted to the head and chest. The tests would be conducted using a sled test designed to simulate a T-bone crash in which the front of a vehicle traveling 30 miles an hour slams into the side of a small passenger vehicle traveling at 15 m.p.h. The tests would be conducted using an existing crash-test dummy that represents a 12-month-old child, as well as a side-impact dummy, still to be developed, that would represent a 3-year-old. (NY Times)