SUV's becoming smaller impacts child passenger safety
When shopping for a family vehicle remember there are approximately 684 models of motor vehicles and 238 models of child restraint systems (car seats) manufactured in the United States, and model designs can change every year. While vehicles and car seats are required to meet Federal standards, depending on specific criteria, not all car seats are compatible to every vehicle. Add to the fact that vehicles are becoming smaller can make compatibility even more of a problem, affecting installation and safety even among the largest of SUV's. Pro Consumer Safety has established 12-factors for parents to consider when shopping for a new family vehicle.
If you have children and/or have an active outdoor lifestyle that requires space to transport children and outdoor sports equipment and supplies, needing a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) or a minivan is a must. If, however you not have noticed,  SUV’s are becoming smaller (both in width and length). This is a safety problem especially since car seats are getting larger to keep children at each stage (rear-facing, forward-facing, booster seat) longer to give them more protection.  For example, currently 77% of all rear-facing compatible car seats have a weight maximum of 40, 45 and even 50-pounds for rear-facing position (also important to follow height restriction).  This increased weight can keep a child rear-facing between the ages of 3-5 years of age (based upon 90% percentile of height and weight, CDC Clinical Growth Charts). Remember anytime one transitions a child from rear-facing to forward-facing, regardless of age, the child is at an increased risk of c-spine (neck) and traumatic brain injury in the event of a collision. So having car seats becoming larger and having an increased weight capability helps to give protection to the child's head and neck. But smaller sized vehicles can compromise this ability, due to lack of needed space for rear-facing seats and with some vehicles becoming more narrow can also affect the ability to properly install some rear-facing and forward-facing car seats.

According to Consumer Affairs, because of new fuel economy standards, automakers are designing SUV’s smaller to improve fuel economy. This is not a problem, if you are not a tall driver or passenger (generally 5’10” or taller), only have one child, do not mind riding in the back seat with your child, just go to dinner, the movies, get groceries, or maybe take a beach chair and a small cooler to the beach, a smaller SUV is likely fine. However, with SUV’s becoming smaller this can be a problem. A smaller sized SUV can severely affect whether you can safely transport a child or numerous children in these smaller SUV's, and even in some sedans. Add to the fact that if you have an active outdoor lifestyle, you need space for carrying equipment such as for kayaking, snowboarding/skiing, camping, biking, child carriers, bike trailers, etc. But even more important is having enough space and capability to properly install a car seat in the safest location in the vehicle. Depending on the factors below, these contribute to a 30-35% risk that a specific car seat might not be compatible to a specific vehicle. This is why Pro Consumer Safety recommends having a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) make sure the vehicle you are considering can accommodate the seats necessary to safely and properly transport your child in the vehicle before you purchase it.

12-Factors to consider when shopping for a new family vehicle
Pro Consumer Safety has already provided consultation to automotive design engineers on some of these issues. It is also currently assessing top selling car seats that are most compatible to the top selling family vehicles, including SUV’s and minivans. Meanwhile the following are factors that have been shown to contribute to car seat (rear-facing, forward-facing combination, all-in-one and booster seats) compatibility problems. Consumers can use this as a guide when shopping for a new vehicle. Then once you have your vehicles narrowed down Pro Consumer Safety recommends having a CPST assist you to ensure the vehicle is compatible to the car seats necessary for your child.
  1. Number of children (obviously more than one child can increase difficulty).
  2. Number of car seats (rear-facing, forward-facing, booster)
  3. Height/weight of children (contributes to the type of car seat i.e. rear-facing, forward-facing, booster)
  4. Height of driver and front passenger. Heights of 5’10” or taller are more problematic for some vehicles when using rear-facing car seats. The driver and passenger  need at least 3” of space between their knees and dashboard, and for the driver no less than 10” to the steering wheel and for the passenger no less than 20” to the front airbag)
  5. Second row vehicle seat is fixed or does not slide back. This is necessary for proper space necessary between the back of the child's rear-facing car seat and the back of the front vehicle seats. Whereas rear-facing car seats need at least 1.5-2 inches of space between the back of the car seat and back of front vehicle seats. This can impact the driver and passenger as just discussed above.
  6. Contours of vehicle seats. Whereas the sides and back of the vehicle seat angles can affect installation of a car seat or even booster seat.
  7. Location of LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) - height of LATCH and contours of vehicle seat can affect proper use of LATCH, depending on design of car seat.
  8. Location of vehicle reseat belts - seat belts that are not close between the vehicle seat bench and seat back such as being 3-4" away from the back of the vehicle seat becomes a problem when using a seat belt to install a car seat, causing inability to pull the car seat back against the rear of the back seat to be installed properly
  9. Fixed seat belts - when the seat belt receptacle is attached to the bench of the vehicle seat, instead of being on a short belt makes it difficult to place a car seat in the correct location and/or position. This can make is difficult to install a car seat properly as well as can affect the number of car seats placed in the back seat.
  10. Center vehicle seating position where the seat belts are offset or too close together such as being 8-inches or less apart or further away from the center.
  11. Rounded, highly contoured center hump of back vehicle seat.
  12. Number of top tethers (for forward-facing seats that have a top tether - not all vehicles have a top tether at all seat location. Especially in some larger SUV's
If the vehicle you are interested in has any of these factors above, this can increase car seat compatibility problems. In any case however, it is highly recommended to have a CPST assist to make sure you can accommodate the type and number of car seats properly before your purchase the vehicle.
For questions call 323-491-6197

Safety ratings for new vehicles

Pro Consumer Safety receives numerous inquiries from new and expectant parents on what is the best type and safest vehicle to transport their children in. While every vehicle manufacturer has their own criteria and safety specifications, we generally refer them to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization that helps to reduce death, injury and property from crashes. The IIHS offers an excellent resource for consumers on vehicle ratings.

This is a brief word of caution if you are considering purchasing a Tesla Model X, their new SUV. Whereas with the recent crashes of the Tesla Model X, even when drivers were not in the vehicle at the time, the safety of technology features is a high risk safety issue. It also is not large enough for your lifestyle or purpose when transporting children. The brief below is from Pro Consumer Safety's Facebook. 

Perhaps the most important thing to take away here is the need for operator training: The manufacturer is finding that these crashes are driver error. Because these vehicles are "partially autonomous" perhaps the manufacturer needs to require a special operators license to drive these partially autonomous vehicles so drivers are properly trained to keep the driver, it's passengers, as well as other vehicles and pedestrians safe.

Remember when shopping for a new vehicle check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization that helps to reduce death, injury and property from crashes. They offer an excellent resource for consumers on vehicle ratings