After Consumer Reports' tough love car seat tests were announced, several people emailed me about similar tests conducted annually by Which, the UK's version of a feisty, take-no-crap, independent consumer advocacy and testing organization. The tests are remarkably similar in their methods, their findings, their recommendations--and in the way they surely piss off quite a few executives in the Ye Baby Industrial Complex.
[They differ, though, in a couple of ways I hope Consumer Reports will take note of: Which rates car seats on how easy they are to install correctly, and they're a bit clearer on the methodology behind their testing. That said, they're also more tight-lipped about the details of their findings, which are shared only with subscribers. Still, it's good reading, with no umlauts. Definitely check it out.]
The kicker, of course, is that while the EU's crash test standards are higher than the US's, they're still not high enough for the consumer advocates at Which. Yet. Which decried the EU standards ["Don't be fooled by marketing blurb which says the seats have 'passed the legal requirement of ECE 44/03 or 04." Oops.], and instead put car seats through car-like tests: 40mph frontal collisions and 38mph side impacts.
Unlike the US government, though, it appears the EU will be adopting a lot of Which-like testing standards very, very soon. An EU-wide safety standard called NPACS has been designed to replace the four partially overlapping testing regimes in the EU right now, and according to Which, "it looks as if future certification will be closely based on our methods." Bully for them.
So what's the safest car seat you can buy in Europe [or at least in the UK?] Why, that would be the Maxi-Cosi Cabriofix, thank you very much. A close second is the one CR highlighted in their report: the Britax Cosy Tot Isofix, which comes with a brace that installs on the footwell floor.
The kicker, of course, is that with their Isofix/LATCH bases, these car seats price out at 160 and 200 pounds, respectively. Pounds, people. That's $320 and $400 at today's dismal exchange rates; $240 and $300 at the good-old-days 1 pound=$1.50 rate. What would happen to the US market if it suddenly cost 2-3x as much for a car seat that's "safe enough"? Would that affect demand or sales or car seat use? Believe me, I didn't start out this post thinking it, but the JPMA might have a point.
Sitting Safely? Which, June 2006, pdf [via Ireland's Road Safety Association , thanks dt reader becster for the link]