Child-safety seats are always evolving as manufacturers look to create safer and easier-to-use car seats that meet changing federal standards.
This year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated a weight limit for Latch anchors, and it has proposed new side-impact crash tests that some car-seat makers are already using to design safer car seats. Car seats already have to pass federal safety standards to be sold in the U.S.
At the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas earlier this fall, car-seat makers were among the many manufacturers showing off their latest wares. Here are the trends we noticed for 2015:
Improved Crash Protection
Parents shopping for car seats are already reaping the benefit of the proposed car-seat crash tests. Many new or redesigned car seats such as the Britax Marathon have large side wings that protect a child's head and chest in a side-impact crash.
The Recaro Performance Coupe infant seat's carrying handle becomes an anti-rebound bar when the seat is installed. These bars, which are used only in rear-facing car seats, are positioned against the car's seat and prevent the child-safety seat from moving or bouncing during and immediately after a crash.
The infant seat (photo above) also has an anti-rebound bar, but it goes a step further in its crash protection. In a crash, the carrier is designed to rotate into a more upright position in the car seat's base. This allows the car seat to absorb the crash forces by "compressing on the built-in shock absorption system" found in the car seat.
Higher Weight Limits
It's been a few years since NHTSA and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents keep their children in the rear-facing position until at least age 2, and car-seat manufacturers are now offering rear-facing infant seats that have higher weight limits — meaning that the child can stay in this seat longer. Perhaps the most impressive car seat in that regard is the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 (photo above). It's the only rear-facing infant seat that has a 40-pound weight limit, according to Graco. To accommodate a child who weighs upward of 40 pounds, the car seat's base extends lengthwise to create a little more legroom for your not-so-little one. Of course, carrying a 40-pound child in an infant carrier will require some powerful arm muscles.
From installation to struggling to get the harness to fit your child correctly, car seats offer endless ways to frustrate parents. Recaro's Performance Coupe infant seat has a foot in the base (photo above) that can be easily adjusted to fit a car's backseat, but it also has a dial that allows you to fine tune that fit. The infant seat's harness straps, which can be adjusted without rethreading them through the car seat's shell, also impressed me.
Britax's ClickTight system has been around for more than a year, but we had our first opportunity to give it a try at the expo. Car seats with the system skip the Latch system for installation, instead using the seat belt. However, there's no need to lock the seat belt (a step many parents inadvertently miss) when installing the car seat. My colleague installed a Britax convertible with the ClickTight system and was able to get it properly installed with a tight fit on the first try. Not bad for a dad whose youngest is a senior in high school.
Narrower, Lighter Designs
The holy grail of car seats is the ability to fit three of them across a backseat. Car-seat maker Diono is known for its narrow car seats that do just that, but it will have some competition soon. Dorel's Cosco Scenera Next convertible (photo above) is 17 inches wide, which is narrower than the previous version of this seat, and spokesman Ryan Hawker said three Scenera Next car seats will "fit in 80 percent of cars" with a three-position backseat. At $49 each, the Scenera Next has Diono's lineup beat when it comes to price.
Parents love the convenience of infant carriers, but few like how heavy they are once your baby puts on a couple of pounds. A few infant-safety seats at the expo weighed in at 12 pounds or less.
Our favorite car seat at the expo was a Recaro carbon-fiber infant seat concept that won't see the light of a big box store anytime soon. Carbon fiber is extremely pricey, but its light weight won us over — allowing us to pick up the carrier with one finger. Dare to dream.