The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is requesting comments on its proposed consumer information program under which the agency “will make available information from vehicle manufacturers as to the specific child safety seats the manufacturers recommend for individual vehicles.” Comments on all aspects of the proposed program are requested by March 28, 2011.

According to research on child restraint systems (CRS), installation mistakes that reduce or negate CRS effectiveness occur frequently and can be attributed to “incompatabilities between the child restraint and the vehicle.” The document that the agency issued in the Federal Register for comment “primarily details observations from an agency pilot study conducted to determine reasonable conditions for participation in a [consumer information] program. It also proposes a set of forms comprised of objective criteria which vehicle manufacturers can use to identify child safety seats that fit their vehicles.” According to NHTSA, the program should “make it easier for caregivers to select a child safety seat that fits in their vehicle.”

Under the voluntary program, NHTSA will ask participating vehicle manufacturers to recommend “at least three current model year child restraints within each of three different CRS categories (rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster). For the forward-facing category, at least one high-weight harness CRS shall be recommended, and for the booster category, no more than one of the three recommended booster seats may be a dedicated backless booster. Additionally, the three recommended CRS for each of the three CRS categories shall be from three different CRS manufacturers and shall also meet three established price points (inexpensive, moderately-priced, and expensive) based on the child restraint’s Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.”

According to NHTSA, the program will complement the agency’s “Ease of Use program, 4 Steps for Kids consumer information campaign, as well as other child passenger safety initiatives,” and “encourage child restraint and vehicle manufacturers to work together to address the need for increased compatibility.” The agency also plans to “spot-check” the fit of recommended vehicle-CRS combinations. See Federal Register, February 25, 2011.