Effects of child restraint misuse on dynamic performance

Objective: Estimates of child restraint misuse rates in the United States range from 49% to 95%, but not all misuse modes have similar consequences in terms of restraint effectiveness. A series of laboratory sled tests was conducted to determine the effects of common misuses and combinations of misuses, including loose harness, loose installation, incorrect installation angle, incorrect belt path, loose/no tether, and incorrect harness clip usage.

Methods: Three commercial convertible child restraint models were loaded with the Hybrid III 3-year-old anthropomorphic test device (ATD) and secured by either LATCH or seat belt on a modified FMVSS No. 213 bench. Tests were conducted in forward-facing (FF) and rear-facing (RF) modes. The response variables included ATD accelerations, excursions, and restraint kinematics. Belt/LATCH loads, tether loads, ATD kinematics, and restraint structural response data were also documented. A fractional factorial test design on 8 factors was used to define an initial series of 32 tests. The first series also included 4 tests of correct CRS, 2 forward facing and 2 rearward facing. The analysis of those data determined the selection of conditions for the remaining 20 tests to focus on factors and interactions of high interest and significance.

Results: In the RF condition, misrouting the LATCH belt or seat belt through the incorrect belt path was the only misuse that significantly affected outcomes of interest and was associated with high levels of undesirable CRS rotation. In FF tests, loose installation and tether misuse had large adverse effects on 3 of 4 key response variables.

Conclusion: The study provides strong evidence for prioritizing tight restraint installation and proper tether use for FF restraints. In particular, use of the tether helped offset the adverse effects of loose installation or loose harness. Because the results show that performance of a RF child restraint system (CRS) installation is less affected by user error, they also provide support for extended RF restraint use. In addition, packaging convertible child restraints with the LATCH belt routed through the RF belt path could help prevent the most consequential RF CRS misuse.