January 9, 2007

DT Car Seat Week: Not Safe Enough At Any Speed? UK Car Seat Test Results

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]

7 Comments

It never works like that. Prices are always numerically equivilant. Books are 15 pounds. CDs 15 pounds. You just pay twice as much if you buy something in the UK. Those car seats will be $160-200 here. Possibly less since Europeans are used to paying a bit more.
Pricing schemes now are based entirely upon what people expect to pay. My guess is a car seat costs less than $5 to manufacture (at most $10). Even if you have to do extensive testing, you have quite a bit of padding with $150+ worth of profit.
Of course the corporations will give us a sob story, but they'll be able to comply and keep the prices the same.

Tim, I guarantee you a car seat costs more than $5 to manufacture and deliver to market. Then you need to add in the (huge) cost of liability insurance, development, etc. Nobody ever got into the car seat business expecting to light Cuban cigars with burning $100 bills. I'm surprised anybody bothers making them at all- what's the upside? Even if you spent a decade designing the safest car seat in the world, made it from carbon fiber, equipped it with 15 airbags, and sold it for $0.99 so everyone could afford one, eventually it's going to be involved in a crash that injures or kills somebody's baby. And of course, the thanks for that will be a lawsuit.

Do the current US standards suck? Yes. Should they be improved? Of course. But the point of standards is that they are, well, standard, and everyone has to comply with them. Expecting seats to comply to some higher unofficial set of standards just means that you'll get two classes of seats: expensive ones that pass the higher standard and are purchased by people with plenty of money, and cheaper ones that pass the minimum standard and are purchased by people who either don't do the research, or can't afford the best.

nah, the JPMA *doesn't* have a point, because the major companies involved -- Britax, Evenflo, Graco, PegPerego & Chicco -- are already making & selling carseats for the EU market, and meeting the higher standards. So, no real R&D budget cost increases can be claimed there. Besides, the BabyTrend (isn't that a house-brand for Toys R Us?) and the Graco SnugRide (not the more expensive SafeSeat) already meet the higher standards Consumers Union is calling (and testing) for, and both those seats are affordably priced. So bugger to the JPMA and their whining.

Also, increased carseat costs might lead more parents to purchase a convertible carseat only, instead of doing the whole infant carseat first, convertible seat second, booster third spending cycle a lot of us have bought into. Yet another reason I'm not buying the carseat-industrial-complex reaction to all of this: they're just guarding their profit margins, as far as I'm concerned. Because if I'd thought I could only afford ONE carseat for my baby's restraint lifecycle, I'd have gone ahead and bought the Britax that does it all. One purchase, less money in the end, and less waste after when it's time to get rid of the seat. How environmentally friendly! Oh, and that's not even getting into the whole thing where maybe if it really was all that expensive produce & buy those better carseats, more people would resort to using public transportation, and maybe even using babycarriers (like pouches, slings, etc) which have the added benefit of not promoting plagiocephaly, like the overuse of infant carseat/carriers does.

Ok, off the soapbox now. Greg, as usual, thanks for adding some great reading material to my day.

[likewise, thanks -ed.]

You know what bothers me about the whole idea of people thinking $200-$300 is too much for the most important child safety purchase you can make - well, that's just it.

While I have no research to back this up, I bet that even those who feel that amount is too much end up spending those dollars and more on baby clothes, nursery decor, special rocking chair for nursing, and plenty of other "extras" (IMHO) babies truly can live without.

Again, without figures, I suspect the most potentially danger-filled and fatal moments of your child's day are those spent in the car. Please skip on the matching diaper bag, crib bumper (which you shouldn't use anyway), photo frames, etc and spend on a car seat!

You know what bothers me about the whole idea of people thinking $200-$300 is too much for the most important child safety purchase you can make - well, that's just it.

While I have no research to back this up, I bet that even those who feel that amount is too much end up spending those dollars and more on baby clothes, nursery decor, special rocking chair for nursing, and plenty of other "extras" (IMHO) babies truly can live without.

Again, without figures, I suspect the most potentially danger-filled and fatal moments of your child's day are those spent in the car. Please skip on the matching diaper bag, crib bumper (which you shouldn't use anyway), photo frames, etc and spend on a car seat!

very interesting, it makes me wish that the US and Europe would adopt the same safety standards. Again it makes me consider getting the maxi cosi, even though dd is 3 m/o. Just out of curiosity, greg, you have the maxi cosi right? Do you have their version for older kids too? What strollers do you have--are they compatible with the Maxi?

how about asia?
I hope also the better

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