For Most of the World’s Children, CPS a Work in Progress

This article originated in the May/June 2022 issue of Safe Ride News.

Imagine a world in which some CRs offer LATCH or seat belt installation mode, but not both options. Where vehicles don’t have a standardized lockability requirement, so, unless the CR has a lock-off, a locking clip is necessary for seat belt installations. And where many CRs with lock-off functionality require a seat belt that’s so long it often can’t be used.

In fact, you are imagining the world—as a whole—that we live in today! And that’s just considering the jumble of confusing CR/vehicle matchups in countries where CRs are available and used. In many, many countries, CRs are scarcely on the radar.

As CPSTs know, in the U.S., we promote a good/better/best approach to CPS that regards best practice as the gold standard. What we might not recognize is that this approach is enabled largely by federal regulations that make CRs (and the vehicles in which they are used) safe and compatible. A few other parts of the world (Europe, Canada, Australia/New Zealand) are similarly regulated. Despite ongoing challenges, CPS efforts in these “regulated” countries benefit from a standardized and region-specific approach.

Meanwhile, how are children in the rest of the world—the vast majority of children on the planet—protected in motor vehicles? A 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) report found that only 9% of the world’s population lives in places that meet the overall best-practice criteria for CPS, which WHO defines as the presence of national laws, requirements for children under the age of 10 or 135 cm in height to use a CR, restrictions on riding in the front seat, and specifications or standards for CRs.

Most children live in so-called developing nations (aka low- and middle-income countries). Given their prevalence in the world, the populace of these countries can accurately be considered the “global majority.” In these countries, child passenger safety is not a focus for most people.

Such countries face many serious hurdles in developing CPS practices, including those economic and cultural in nature. Of course, hurdles can be overcome by a collective will, but building such a will requires widespread problem recognition—and this is a job for educators. However, standardized training for a community of certified CPSTs (and an ongoing, centralized program to support them) is unique to the U.S. In a few other countries, like Canada and Australia, train-the-trainer programs exist, though these do not confer a federal designation of CPST (or its equivalent). Outside of these countries, therefore, CPS movements are at a distinct disadvantage.

Clearly, the tremendous (and worthwhile) undertaking of improving the CPS situation for children in other countries is best addressed by the people living in those countries. So, aside from appreciating the advantages of a developed CPS system, what can CPSTs in the U.S. do? For starters, they should be prepared to teach U.S. families who travel abroad.

If a family mentions travel plans, encourage them to take their own CR and use it on the airplane and in the foreign country while on their trip.

Teach families planning to use vehicles outside the U.S. and Canada to recognize when a locking clip is needed and how to use one to install their CR, since many vehicles sold in markets outside the U.S. and Canada do not have lockability in their belt systems. If the family doesn’t have a locking clip, provide them with one to take on the trip; despite the need, locking clips can be tricky or impossible to acquire in foreign countries.

Help U.S. military families who live in foreign countries where CPS can be confusing. Although some CRs that meet FMVSS 213 might be available through their base exchange, there’s no guarantee that these CRs will be easy to use with the vehicles they drive. Unfortunately, these families can’t count on purchasing a CR that complies with a European standard to resolve incompatibility issues, either. Again, a lack of locking clips, which these days are often not provided with the CR, has been noted as a problem by caregivers in the military.

Ask questions and be an active listener; CPSTs can learn a lot from families living and traveling abroad.

CPSTs who are interested and able to do more to promote the safety of children worldwide are encouraged to support the citizens of other countries who are working to spur homegrown CPS movements. Here are a few things to know:

In recent years, a few people from foreign countries have gone to the effort of becoming CPSTs through the U.S. program. This requires them to travel here and/or arrange for U.S. CPSTs to come to their country to conduct a course. Candidates must not only have the interest and time for training but also be fluent in English, because the entire course must be taught and completed in English. CPSTs, particularly those fluent in another language, can be helpful by supporting foreign candidates who seek certification. (Note: Although a version of the U.S. certification curriculum translated to Spanish was available a few years ago, a translated version for the current edition is not yet available.)

Some CPSTs from outside the U.S. are working diligently to implement a CPS culture back in their home countries. They must start from the ground up, building teams, developing educational materials, and advocating for laws and standards. But, unlike those who started the U.S. CPS movement in the 1970s and ‘80s, these CPSTs don’t have to invent the wheel; they can look to regulated countries and aim to borrow the aspects of those systems that they feel will work best for their own country. In 2021, the Global Road Safety Partnership published an excellent resource to guide developing countries in this process of cherry-picking various aspects of established CPS approaches to form the policies and programs that make sense for their circumstances. Find, available in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese, here. (Editor’s Note: This report is also recommended reading for anyone interested in learning more about the historical evolution of the CPS field worldwide.)

Fellow CPSTs are encouraged to connect with and support global safety pioneers. In 2020, Heidi Heflin set up a Facebook group called “Global Child Passenger Safety” that brings together CPSTs in the countries that are in the early stages of developing a child passenger safety culture in order to provide support for one another. CPSTs with interest and insights to share with this group are invited to ask the admins for membership.

One observation CPSTs working in many countries have made is that U.S. CRs can be especially useful to them because they may be installed using either a seat belt or LATCH. In contrast, some European CR models (including many meeting the new R129 standards) are too limited for use in many cars outside Europe because they may only be installed using rigid LATCH. These models, which may well suit their intended European markets, are also often heavy and too expensive for many customers outside the European Union. Unfortunately, many countries have, perhaps unwittingly, excluded CRs meeting FMVSS 213 from import.  To address this, Heidi Heflin has drafted a template letter that advocates can send to decision-makers in any country experiencing this sort of inflexibility and limited selection of CR models. Find the letter at .

While the global challenges of addressing CPS can seem quite overwhelming, as Jchanet Tan of Malaysia (and the 2021 International CPST-I of the Year) said in a recent Global CPS group Facebook post, “We only need to save ONE life at a time.” That’s sound advice in any country!

Besides the U.S., only Canada, the European Union, and Australia/New Zealand have full-fledged CR regulations. In the rest of the world, home to 90% of the world’s children, those who strive to use CRs must select from a mishmash of models that meet (or claim to meet) the standards of these few countries/regions.

A further complicating factor in the selection and use of CRs is that Europe currently has two standards: CRs may either meet the old standard, R44.04, or the newer standard, R129, which was introduced in 2013 to improve several aspects of CR use and performance. However, this dual system will end soon; European manufacturers have had about a decade to adjust to R129, so starting September 1, 2023, new CRs that meet R44 will no longer be sold.  

CR design and regulatory differences, however, are not random, nor are certain standards superior or inferior. Rather, each has been developed in response to the vehicles and characteristics of the specific area’s population, as well as other factors like economic and lifestyle considerations. It’s not surprising, therefore, that CR use can become more challenging when a CR model made for one country is used in another country where the circumstances are different.