Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., and Katie Porter, D-Calif. recently announced that they will be introducing the Booster Seat Safety Act to implement sweeping changes to regulations governing child booster seat safety.

The legislation follows a report from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which follows a ProPublica report, which was prompted by a class action and another class action, both of which were prompted by a prior products liability lawsuit.

The Act seeks to introduce a number of mandatory reforms. Per the Subcommittee press release:

The Booster Seat Safety Act does the following:

  • Labeling
    • Requires manufacturers to place clear labels on booster seats, car seats, and combination car seats. Booster seat labels shall note the recommendations for children to be over 4 years old and over 40 pounds.
    • Provides that NHTSA recommend the minimum height required for booster seats or a method by which a booster seat manufacture determines the minimum height required for booster seats. Subsequently, requires that minimum height recommendation be included in the booster seat label created by this bill.
  • Side-Impact Crash Testing
    • Requires NHTSA to issue regulations on side-impact crash testing for booster seats, including both near-side impact and far-side impact testing.
    • Requires NHTSA to provide guidelines for the creation of a 6-year-old testing dummy for the side-impact crash testing.
  • height required for booster seats. Subsequently, requires that minimum height recommendation be included in the booster seat label created by this bill.
  • Side-Impact Crash Testing
    • Requires NHTSA to issue regulations on side-impact crash testing for booster seats, including both near-side impact and far-side impact testing.
    • Requires NHTSA to provide guidelines for the creation of a 6-year-old testing dummy for the side-impact crash testing.

Minimum Weight Recommendations for Booster Seats. The bill’s labeling requirement essentially codifies current widespread child-seat industry practice. Most booster seat manufacturers already recommend using booster seats only for children above 40 pounds (Evenflo, Cosco, Britax). The weight range recommendations are generally clearly displayed on most of booster seats or their owner’s manuals.

Mandatory Standards for Near- and Far-Side Impact Testing of Boosters. NHTSA, child-seat manufacturers, and safety advocates have been collaborating on a near-side impact testing requirement since 2014, when NHTSA proposed a Takata-designed side impact test requirement via a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Many sled labs have the dummies and equipment necessary to implement this standard. Safety advocates, regulators, and manufacturers are still working to finalize the test procedure—for near-side impacts. But no test procedure exists for far-side impacts. Any procedure would likely be more variable and dependent on the vehicle environment, existence of other passengers and child seats, etc. Another issue with this requirement relates more to priority than the substance of the proposal. Safety advocacy experts have commented that at least three other safety issues should take higher priority for child safety seats (rear-facing seat age requirements, tether usage requirements, and booster usage requirements).

Implications of Testing Requirements for Backless Booster Seats. Mandatory side-impact testing standards pose significant unresolved questions for backless booster seats. For example, what vehicle’s belt and seat systems would be used for the test? This is an interesting question, because the backless booster seat’s test performance would vary widely depending on the seat and belt system, and, in near-side impacts, the interior door’s energy management system design. The booster seat manufacturer can’t choose or control any of these variables.

This appears to be by design—the bill explicitly states that it intends to “increase the usage of child restraint systems with internal harness to maximize child safety.” So the bill’s authors have apparently chosen to prioritize forward-facing child seats with integral belts over boosters. Yet there is still debate over whether child seats with integral belts are preferable to booster seats combined with vehicle safety belt systems. Swedish recommendations, for example, call for using (a) rear-facing child seats until age 4 or 5 and (b) booster seats, backless booster seats, or integral child seats from age 4/5 to age 12. Forward-facing child seats have pros and cons (cons including pre-positioning the child further forward in the seat). Backless boosters are inexpensive, compact, easy to use, and easily transferred from vehicle to vehicle, so legislating them out of existence could be harmful to safety.

Ultimately, the Booster Seat Safety Act poses significant questions and should be watched closely by manufacturers and litigants.