U.S. Senator Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-Illinois) today hailed a decision by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administrator (NHTSA) to modernize outdated testing methods for child safety seats. The agency’s action, announced Tuesday by acting administrator Rosalyn Millman, comes rapidly on the heels of legislation Fitzgerald introduced last February mandating improvements in safety seat standards and instructing the agency to provide parents with better information about the safety features of car seats.

“The effect of our legislation is already being felt, and we are very pleased,” said Fitzgerald, who proposed the child passenger safety bill with Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat. Fitzgerald and Lincoln, the two youngest members of the Senate, are both parents of young children.

“Car crashes are the leading cause of death among children in the United States. This is a crisis that we, as parents, are very concerned about,” Fitzgerald continued. “In many cases, child safety seat standards in the U.S. fall below standards of other countries.”

“NHTSA deserves credit for taking steps to improve the way we test child safety seats in this country,” he said. “Testing for side-impact and rollover collisions and using more test dummies to represent children of different ages and sizes are essential to protecting our children when they ride in cars. These are common-sense improvements that could help save lives.”

At a hearing Tuesday of a House Commerce subcommittee, NHTSA administrator Millman said the agency would begin testing child seats in various types of real-world collisions, including side-impact and rollover crashes, which account for half of all car accidents. Currently, NHTSA tests car seat performance only in head-on collisions. She also said the agency would update the test bench simulator it uses in crash testing — which is currently modeled after the back seat of a 1975 Chevy Impala — to better reflect the vehicles on the road today.

NHTSA has never before tested car seat performance in side-impact or rollover collisions. The agency’s move to add these scenarios to its battery of tests reflects a needed improvement specifically outlined in Fitzgerald’s bill.

Millman also announced plans to add more crash test dummies representing children of different ages and sizes, another improvement cited in Fitzgerald’s legislation. The Senator said this improvement is particularly important in addressing the safety of what some have called the “forgotten children” — kids who are too big for traditional car seats but still too small for adult seat belts. Though every state requires very small children to ride in car seats, most do not have safety laws to protect these “forgotten children.”

“I am glad that NHTSA has heeded our call for better child passenger safety standards, but we still have more work to do to ensure that the car seats we trust to protect our kids measure up to the task,” Fitzgerald explained.

The Senator said he will continue to push for passage of his bill, which requires manufacturers to include side-impact padding in their car seats to protect against head injuries, and instructs NHTSA to provide parents with information they can use to decide which car seat or booster seat is best for their children. In addition, Fitzgerald said, his measure imposes deadlines on the agency for modernizing its standards and improving parents’ access to reliable information.

“We want to ensure that child passenger safety standards are improved and accurate information is made available to parents as soon as possible,” he said. “This is an issue that cannot afford to wait.”