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Transport Canada Buckles Under Pressure: Agrees to Release Car Seat Test Results

Posted Jun 02 2009 4:17pm

In a sudden reversal, Transport Canada announced on Tuesday that it would release the results of hundreds of tests on child car seats conducted since 2003.

Prior to Tuesday, they were refusing to publicly release the six years’ worth of tests — paid for with the public dollar — because “there may be a potential for unfair material damage to the private sector without cause.”

On Monday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on this issue.  They learned that these tests were similar to ones carried out by the NHTSA in 2008, which revealed problems with some seats, such as failures in side impact crashes and numerous cases of infant seats detaching from their bases. These results led to recalls and changes in car seat safety policies.

As you might expect, this news prompted considerable backlash.

Bruce Cran, of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, was outraged.

Shame on Transport Canada, what were they thinking of?  This is a Canadian ministry looking at things that might protect our children and they won’t tell us the results of tests they did with public funds? This is absolutely ludicrous.

NDP children and child-care critic Olivia Chow, said “The government has an obligation to protect its citizens above any corporate interests.”

Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May also weighed in, stating that putting business interests above consumer safety is “unacceptable.”

Transport Canada is tasked with ensuring road safety – not with protecting private sector profits. It is deeply troubling that critical research on car seat safety is being withheld. Canadian taxpayers funded this research and the Canadian public deserves to learn the results.

In many ways, this is not much different than the situation with the NHTSA’s 2008 testing.  The NHTSA only fully released its results after an investigation and extensive report by the Chicago Tribune.  At that time, Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator, said What you’ve uncovered totally reveals the flaws in the current safety standard and also NHTSA ’s negligence in not reporting this to the public.

Some of the “flaws” revealed have to do with testing procedures.  For instance, no side-impact testing was required for seats to be certified.  Also, a standard “sled bench” used for crash tests does not simulate the effects of having a front seat.  Many car seats that passed the standard sled test, failed in actual car tests, as the baby dummy’s head hit the front seat causing high injury ratings.Infant seats flying off their bases could not be replicated in sled bench tests, but occurred frequently in real car tests. As of 2008, federal regulators were studying how to improve the sled tests.

Car seat testing is performed under standardized conditions which do not necessarily represent actual performance in different cars.  If your car seat can not be properly installed in your vehicle, it doesn’t matter how well it performed in sled bench tests, or in tests in a different vehicle. This is arguably the greatest challenge facing car seat consumers — parents — as they attempt to protect their children.

In response to this problem, the NHTSA has launched a website listing 5-star “ease-of-use” evaluations of hundreds of car seats.  And the U.S. Department of Transportation started a consumer program in April that helps parents find a car seat matched to their vehicles.  There is also a search function to find a child safety seat inspection location near you — something which all parents should do, no matter what their car seat or vehicle choices are.  Some reports indicate that as many as 80%-90% of car seats are installed incorrectly, or children are improperly fastened into their seats.

And while you’re thinking about car seat safety, check healthycar.org for information on toxic chemicals in your child seats and vehicles.

Photo credit: Avinash Meetoo via Creative Commons License

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