On January 22, 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed new regulations that would require child car seats, for the first time, to protect children from death and injury in side-impact crashes. Today’s passenger vehicles have eight air bags designed to protect adults, but until recently nothing has been done to protect children in car seats from side-impact.

“Car seats are an essential tool for keeping young children safe in vehicles and have a proven track record of saving lives,” said NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman. “Today we continue to build on our extensive child seat safety program by adding side-impact crash protection for the first time.”

Child Car Seats Must Demonstrate Safety in Crash Tests

The NHTSA proposes to upgrade standards for child seats for children weighing up to 40 pounds to include a new test that simulates a side crash, where the front of a vehicle traveling 30 mph strikes the side of a small passenger vehicle traveling at 15 mph. The side-impact test will simulate both the acceleration of the struck vehicle and the vehicle’s door crushing inward toward the car seat. In the proposed test, car seats must demonstrate they can safely restrain a child by preventing head contact with an intruding vehicle door and reducing the crash forces transmitted to the child’s head and chest.

New Regs Would Save Lives and Prevent Injuries

Many child deaths occur when the vehicle in which the child is traveling enters into an intersection and is struck by a vehicle traveling on the cross street. The NHTSA estimates that the proposed standards will prevent the deaths of about five children and injuries to 64 others each year. Joan Claybrook, NHTSA administrator during President Jimmy Carter’s administration and later president of the advocacy group Public Citizen, says those figures are “very, very conservative.”

Final Implementation Could Be Years Away

The public will have 90 days to comment on the proposed regulations. The agency will review the comments and answer any important issues raised and then finalize the regulations, after which car seat manufacturers will have three years to make any adjustments to meet the new requirements.