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Infant Car Seat

What you need to know about car seats
New regulations have come into effect for child car seats and more are on the way, so it's important for your business that you keep up to date. You provide a valuable service when you help parents select car seats that are right for their children and vehicles. Here˙s what you need to know:

1. Air bags
While air bags have proven to be real lifesavers, they can cause serious injury or death if they hit a rear-facing car seat or a misplaced or misused forward-facing seat.

Infants must not ride rear-facing in the front seat with an air bag; the air bag can hit the top of the car seat with a force far too great for babies to tolerate. They cannot ride forward facing because their necks are not strong enough to support the head in a crash. Infants must ride rear-facing in the back seat, or side-facing in a car bed in the front or back seat. Older children who must sit in a seat with an air bag should be properly restrained with the vehicle seat pushed back as far as possible.

The Federal government allows parents to have the vehicle dealer disconnect the air bag. But parents must remember that the extra restraint afforded by an air bag is no longer available for anyone else. You can suggest parents put the kids in the back whenever possible, and let them know their options if they cannot. For more information and brochures, call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 1-800-424-9393 and JPMA at 609-231-8500.

2. Vehicle incompatibility with car seats
Vehicle belts are designed to fit and be comfortable for adults, and some of those belts cannot properly secure any car seat. Parents may be able to move the car seat to another seating location or use a locking clip (an extra metal piece that secures the seat belt). But installation may not be possible in some vehicles, especially if an air bag makes the right front seat unavailable.

One possible solution is a tether. A tether stabilizes the top part of a car seat. It is especially helpful in situations where the belts are set forward of the bight (that's the crack where the seat back and bottom meet), if there is an ELR belt, if the belts have long stiff stalks, for certain bucket seats and other situations that don't permit a tight belt fit.

In the past, tethers have been difficult to anchor in some vehicles, and not all car seats easily accommodated them. As of September 1, 1999, though, most forward-facing car seats except auto boosters included a tether and new vehicles started having new, visible, accessible anchors for attaching the tethers. The goal is to increase tether use by making it easy rather than having the parent purchase the tether separately and take the vehicle to the dealer to have the anchor installed. Note that car seats are not required to use a tether, but the regulations changed in such a way that most car seats have to include a tether to meet the new head excursion standard of 28.4". If a tether is used, the car seat must also still meet the current 32" head excursion requirement without the tether. Parents can order tethers from the manufacturer of their car seat or you may wish to stock them as an add-on sale. There are two basic types: Double slide (least expensive) or slide lock (may be better if seat is moved often).

The tether is part of a new system that will allow car seats to be installed in vehicles without using the vehicle seat belts at all. This universal attachment will have small metal bars down in the bight of the seat. By January 1, 2002, car seats must have a way to attach to these bars that does not utilize the seat belt.

Car seat manufacturers will use different systems on different car seats from economical to luxury. Clamp-on attachments are pretty automatic to use, but they make the car seat heavier and are more expensive. Most car seats will probably use straps with hooks that attach to the bars because they are the least expensive. Even so, the increased retail price of the car seat will be from perhaps $20-60 per seat, depending on the system used.

Universal attachment systems are not too far away, so parents must carefully choose the type of car seat that works best in their vehicle. You can help by allowing parents to try the car seat in their vehicle before purchase, and locating a source in your area that can provide assistance if required, such as the local hospital or police department. Parents can also contact the car seat manufacturer or the vehicle dealer.

3. Turn-around time
Current recommendations now are that babies should ride rear-facing until they are at least age 1. However, car seat manufacturers cannot test for age; they can only test for weight. Many car seat manufacturers have now tested their convertible car seats up to 30 or even 35 pounds rear-facing to help accommodate the heavier, shorter, younger babies. (Height recommendations do not ordinarily change.) The key is: Always follow the instructions and labels that come with a particular seat.

4. Auto booster seats
There are two types of auto booster seats: shield and belt-positioning. Some advocates insist that children shouldn't use auto boosters until they weigh 40 pounds. Some parents may indeed "graduate" a child into an auto booster at perhaps 25 pounds, which is too soon; maybe a younger child needs the convertible seat or the parent may want the child to get in and out himself. But there are some children who get too tall for their convertible seats before they reach 40 pounds, so an auto booster for use from 30 to 60- 70-80 pounds is a good option. Both shield and belt-positioning boosters meet the same Federal government standard. Published research data does not indicate that either system performs better than the other.

It might be a good idea to ask where the booster seat will be used: If it will be used in any lap belt-only seating locations, it must have a shield; if it will be used in any lap-shoulder belt seating locations for children over 40 pounds, it must be a belt-positioning booster (with or without a removable shield.) Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for minimum and maximum weights. Also, the mid-point of the child's head cannot be above the vehicle seat back, or whiplash could result.

The trend is certainly to keep children in car seats longer. Current recommendations are that children up to 80 pounds should be in a child restraint; after then, they can use the adult seat belt. There are several reasons for this: their legs are too short to hit the curve in the seat, so the kids tend to slouch down, bringing the lap belts right over the vulnerable stomach area; young kids tend to squirm anyway, and they get out of position very quickly when using just the adult seat lap/shoulder belt, again allowing the lap belt over the stomach; and they aren't tall enough to see out, which means they do things like sit on their knees and put themselves in dangerous positions.

Some manufacturers are trying to make child restraints look "older" or significantly different from the "baby seats." Pads that match vehicle fabrics and race car themes are just two approaches. Deluxe is also "in."

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