The following article was reprinted from SafetyBeltSafe News
Volume 27, No.2, March 2006
What are “After Market
Products” and Why Should You Care?
The inventor of a new safety seat toy
wrote SBS USA for help in figuring out how to assure families the product was
safe for use in the car. A Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician asked what
to do when others tried to remove items aimed to help infants ride comfortably,
even when they are designed into the safety seat being checked.
Everyone wants to help families do the
best for their children. Some items are positively dangerous for use in the
car; others are useful additions, tested for this purpose; and, finally, some
are specifically included by manufacturers of safety seats and therefore, have
been dynamically tested as part of the self-certification procedure.
Some safety seats come with infant
inserts that improve fit for small babies. The instructions, which usually
state the insert is to be used until the baby reaches a certain size, should be
followed. Other seats come with optional padding or pillows. Technicians should
help parents decide whether the child will be more comfortable with or without
them. If a pillow pushes the child’s head forward, it can be both uncomfortable
and dangerous if it causes an infant’s head to flop so the airway is blocked.
What about adding after-market padding to
a safety seat? It’s fine to use rolled receiving blankets or diapers along each
side of a newborn’s body for support after
adjusting the harness
snugly. No padding should be placed under or behind the baby or between the
baby and the harness. The exception is a tightly folded diaper placed between
the crotch and crotch strap, to help prevent slumping. There also are special
products made for this purpose.
Manufacturers of vehicles or safety seats
prohibit use of some products because they may damage the belts or become
missiles in a crash. Safety belt tighteners and toys that parents would not
like hurled at their child’s face at 30 mph are good examples. Using this
“test” helps parents to decide which items are appropriate for use in the car.
When a product designer approaches SBS
USA, we recommend consultation with a source like the
University of Michigan Transportation
Research Institute, with long-term competence in safety seat testing, federal
standards, and design issues that might pose other risks when an item is
attached to a safety seat or used in the car. Many designers are aware of all
of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards with which to comply
but struggle to find a way to prove that their designs won’t compromise safety
in the car. Some of these products are created in response to known issues,
such as children resisting riding in safety seats or learning how to undo
buckles or slither out of harness systems. SBS USA has a reproducible handout,
“But my child won’t stay in the car seat!,” with tips to encourage consistent,
correct use. However, when a child persists, serious or fatal outcomes can
A grandmother wrote SBS USA, telling how
one of her grandchildren died. The 3-year-old had gotten out of her safety seat
while traveling, and her mother asked the booster-age sibling to put her back
in. Flustered by the situation, the mom lost control of the vehicle, leading to
a horrific crash. The unrestrained younger child died. The grieving grandmother
begs drivers to “PULL OVER” instead of trying to handle such situations while
A mother called, shocked that her
previously compliant 19-month-old suddenly unbuckled and stood upright in her
safety seat as they sped down the freeway. The minutes until she could get to
an exit were terrifying and led her to design a solution.
In 1990, with federal research funding,
Yellowstone Environmental Services, with SBS USA collaboration, studied and
reported on this issue. They recommended that designs incorporate child
resistant features (similar to the use of special caps on medicines). During
our survey of English and Spanish-speaking families, it became clear most
children occasionally try to get themselves out of safety seats. However, only
a small percent persisted. Unless safety seat manufacturers respond to the
problem, after-market items will be needed to prevent tragedies and promote
happier use of safety seats.
Since NHTSA does not regulate
after-market products, advocates and parents need guidance to determine which
ones are essential or helpful and not potentially dangerous. Find out which
tests were performed and make a visual check to see if the product changes the
positioning of the child in the seat or affects harness routing or snugness,
which could affect performance. In some cases, it may be necessary to use a
different safety seat or a special needs product to solve the problem.