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Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards—Weight Limit Related

This article originated in the March/April 2012 and November/December 2013 issue of Safe Ride News.

Recent Developments Likely to Change CPS Landscape

(Scroll down for “New Rule Will Expand FMVSS 213 Coverage to 80 Pounds, Clarify LA Weights” and “NHTSA Revises Final Rule, But Concedes Little to Petition.)”

This issue of SRN covers some important developments that will have far-ranging effects in the CPS field for years to come.

First, a year after the AAP and NHTSA released updated recommendations for how children should ride, a survey from AAA confirms what we’ve sensed:  there has been significant awareness and acceptance of these new guidelines by the public. The 2011 Safe Kids study of CPS use indicated that parents were already trending toward keeping kids in each stage longer, and the AAA survey shows that the efforts of the past year have further contributed to improvement.

Also influential will be NHTSA’s recently announced final rule that updates FMVSS 213 to include a 10-year-old dummy and extend the standard’s applicability to CRs made for children up to 80 pounds.  An article on page 1 describes the key components of the new rule, which goes into effect February 2014 (though manufacturers may comply sooner).  This ruling will influence the CPS industry in more ways than might be recognized initially, and I encourage interested readers to check out the final rule document with its supporting explanations. (See search information at the end of this article.)  It is very thought provoking, while dense, reading.

So, these are certainly major steps in the right direction. With the AAP and NHTSA guidelines, expertly released in synch last spring and continuing to make a major impact on parental behavior, we are on the right track to keeping kids riding longer in each stage. And, just in time, the long-awaited 10-year-old dummy has been added to FMVSS 213 so we can be better assured that CRs made for these older children are indeed as safe as they should be.

One outcome of adding the heavier dummy is that NHTSA concurred with the auto industry that lower LATCH anchors (LAs) were not designed to be strong enough to install CRs with what we commonly call high-weight harnesses—those that are today, in fact, the norm.  As part of the new rule, CR makers will be required to label models with the highest child weight at which the CR can be installed using LATCH.  NHTSA further specifies that the child weight must be derived using this formula:  65 pounds minus the weight of the CR. Above that weight, the user must switch to seat belt installation.

This is a major change in understanding and communicating LA weight limits.  Not only does it mean that consumers will have a clear place to find this guidance, it also represents an important clarification from NHTSA that it considers the LA weight limit to be a combined weight of 65 pounds. Labeling may eliminate uncertainty, however limiting anchor weight so drastically is unfortunate.

The conclusion that LA strength under current FMVSS 225 requirements is capped at a child-plus-CR weight of 65 pounds is surprising.  It contradicts NHTSA’s explanation in a 2003 response to petitions for reconsideration of FMVSS 225 in the Federal Register* that said the strength requirements for LATCH anchors were intended to hold a child’s weight of up to 65 pounds, assuming additional CR weight of 15 pounds (implying an 80-pound system limit).  For NHTSA to suddenly make this new statement without a thorough explanation and full rulemaking process is disappointing.

Given today’s heavier CRs, if one does the math, it seems that LA weight limits by 2014 will shift generally downward, in most cases limiting them to a child’s weight of between 40 and 50 pounds.  In the case of some heavier CRs, in fact, use may be limited so much that parents may start to wonder, “Why bother with LATCH?”  Is this the outcome we want for our “installation method of the future”?

One solution might be to direct our attention back to FMVSS 225 and ask if anchors should be made stronger—“modernized” to match today’s CRs.  If it is true that today’s anchors can only support a child-plus-CR weight of 65 pounds, shouldn’t the strength requirement be raised to at least 80 pounds?

On the plus side, the new rule keeps tether anchors (TAs) separate from LAs, and NHTSA makes a strong point not to impose any required weight limit on tether use at this time.  We see this as especially important as more older (and taller) children ride in harnesses, since these kids are at even greater risk with respect to head excursion—a danger that tethers are proven to mitigate substantially.  However, will manufacturers respond by stating a higher limit for TAs than for LAs?

SRN was joined by other CPS advocacy groups in submitting a letter to NHTSA in which we outline some strong concerns about this final rule as written.  You can view this letter along with the final rule and other comments at www.regulations.gov. (Docket # NHTSA-2011-0176.)

Denise Donaldson—Denise Donaldson



New Rule Will Expand FMVSS 213 Coverage to 80 Pounds, Clarify LA Weights

(Scroll down for “NHTSA Revises Final Rule, But Concedes Little to Petition.)”

On February 27, NHTSA announced a major change to the federal child restraint standard, adopting a 10-year-old into the dummy family and clearly defining lower anchor (LA) weight limits. The addition of the 10-year-old test dummy fulfills a longstanding mandate of Anton’s Law of 2002.  It allows NHTSA to expand the applicability of FMVSS 213 to include CRs for use by children up to 80 pounds (previously 65 pounds).

This new rule will not go into effect until February 27, 2014, as NHTSA has determined that CR manufacturers may need two years to adjust to these new requirements.

Although the 10-year-old dummy has been in development since 2000, and its adoption has been a stated goal for NHTSA over the past decade, it has been on a long journey to this final rule.  The original Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was issued in 2005, but major concerns from the industry prompted supplemental NPRMs in 2008 and 2010.

One serious concern cited by CR manufacturers about the 10-year-old was the positioning procedure for the dummy in order to get reliable test results.  After much deliberation and testing of various procedures, the final rule adopts the procedure put forth by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) for both the 6-year-old (HIII-6C) and the 10-year-old dummies (HIII-10C).  (The HIII-10C also will include a pelvis-positioning pad as part of the procedure.)

Also of concern during the long process of 213 revision is the biofidelity of the HIII-10C with respect to head injury criteria (HIC).  In particular, manufacturers noted that the dummy has a tendency to have significant chin-to-chest impacts leading to unrealistically high HIC scores.  Since there is no evidence to suggest that this type of injury mechanism exists for real children in crashes, and an engineering solution to the problem has not been developed, NHTSA agreed that HIC criteria will not apply to CRs tested with the new HIII-10C.  However, NHTSA ruled that the HIII-10C did provide good biofidelity for excursion and chest acceleration measurements, so criteria for these requirements will apply.

With respect to LA weights, NHTSA expressed agreement with commenters representing the vehicle manufacturers who argued that anchor strength limits must take into account the weights of both the child and CR.  Settling on this approach for labeling of anchor weight maximums will fulfill a NHTSA goal of reducing consumer confusion and misuse by stating a clear child-weight limit on each CR for using the lower anchors for installation.

Tether anchor (TA) weight limits are not specified by this rule. NHTSA made a point to separate TAs from the LAs in specifying these LA limits, and the ruling pointedly refrains from imposing a weight limit on tether use. As stated by NHTSA in the final rule, “A significant portion of the harm to children resulting from motor vehicle crashes could be prevented by the tether.”  Therefore, the agency determined that it will test harness-equipped CRs for use above 65 pounds with and without tether attachment when testing with the HIII-10C (installed with a seat belt).  No consumer warning to curtail tether use at a given weight will be required.  Caregivers should therefore continue to consult the vehicle manufacturers to determine tether anchor weight limits.  These TA limits are also published in the 2011 LATCH Manual.

The most current LATCH Manual is the 2017 edition. Outdated versions should not be used. Click here to order.

Since these rules don’t go into effect until 2014, current methods for determining the weight limits for lower anchors should be used until the labeling begins to show up on CR models.  This includes consulting the manufacturers’ manuals and the 2011 LATCH Manual.

Key details of the new rule include:

  • The 77-pound, 10-year-old dummy will be used for testing of CRs intended for children from 65 to 80 pounds.  CRs for use from 50 to 65 pounds will continue to be tested with the 51-pound, 6-year-old dummy for performance and with the 6-year-old weighted to 62 pounds (clothed) for structural integrity.
  • When the dummy PLUS CR weigh more than 65 lbs, harness-equipped CRs will be tested only when installed with a seat belt (not with the lower anchors). NHTSA explains in the ruling that this is because FMVSS 225 was not developed with the expectation that CRs would be used for weights higher than this.  However, CRs tested with the new 10-year-old dummy will be required to pass head excursion requirements in both tethered and untethered scenarios when installed with the seat belt.
  • Since some CRs with higher harness weight limits will not be tested to the CR’s upper weight limit when installed with lower anchors, NHTSA has further ruled that a consumer warning label must appear on all such CRs regarding the weight limit for using the lower anchors.  This advice also will appear in the CR owner’s manual.  The required warning label will state a maximum child weight for lower anchor use. The CR manufacturer will calculate the weight limit by subtracting the CR weight from 65 pounds.  In other words, each CR model will have a specific maximum child-weight limit for using the LAs that’s dependent upon the weight of the CR, so that the limit for installing with LAs takes into account the combined child plus CR weight. The standard also clarifies that these weight limits do not apply to LA installations for boosters or CRs used in booster mode.


NHTSA Revises Final Rule, But Concedes Little to Petition

On February 20, 2014, NHTSA responded to a petition that had requested changes to the LATCH weight limit labeling aspects of the 2012 final rule amending FMVSS 213.  SRN and other advocates had filed the petition in April 2012 due to concern that the labels, as defined, would excessively limit LATCH use, cause confusion, and inadvertently hinder tether use.

NHTSA’s response, issued just a week prior to the February 27 compliance deadline for the original rule, denies most points of the petition, but does alter the final rule in a few ways.  Although the rule will continue to state the limit for use of the lower attachment system as a combined child-plus-CR weight of 65 pounds, it will now allow CR manufacturers to round up to the nearest number ending in 0 or 5 for forward-facing CRs.  This might help alleviate confusion, since a wide array of odd-seeming limits might have been on labels if rounding had not been allowed.  (However, limits for convertible CRs in the rear-facing mode, which apply to only a few models that are heavy and/or have a high usage weight, must be rounded down if the manufacturer opts to round.)

NHTSA also added that the label must appear with the LATCH-installation diagram that is already required by FMVSS 213, and redefined the weights of dummies used for required testing with LATCH.

Because these slight revisions were announced so close to the compliance deadline of the original final rule, manufacturers will have until February 2015 to comply with the new aspects of the rule (though compliance to the original requirements of the final rule went into effect on February 27, 2014, as scheduled).  Manufacturers require ample lead-time to equip CRs with new labels, so labeling that was compliant with the original rule, as written, was in the pipeline for most manufacturers (if not already on store shelves) by the time this revision was issued.  Because manufacturers did not know about the optional rounding provision in advance of the compliance deadline, it remains to be seen whether they will opt to make future labeling adjustments based on this revision, and whether that will introduce even more consumer confusion.  (NOTE: To alleviate potential problems, remember the mantra to always follow the CR makers’ instructions for the CR unit being used!)

Find the response at www.regulations.gov, Docket No. NHTSA-2014-0026. NHTSA will consider public comments regarding this response if they are posted to this docket by April 11, 2014. 

Additional Information…

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards—Side-Impact Related

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards—10-year-old Crash Dummy Related

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards—School Bus Related