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Ibon Maza: "It is very important that retailers raise awareness about the proper installation and use of child restraint systems"

Ibon Maza, Communications Director, Babyauto Group

26/03/2014

Sales of child car seats remain stable in Spain, and are even better for the 1, 2, 3 Group systems. Ibon Maza, Communications Director at the Babyauto Group, explains the importance that retailers raise awareness about the installation and use of CRS, "as they are the bridge between the brand and consumers."

Could you tell us the major technical improvements which have been introduced in child restraint systems (CRS)?
Regulation 129 marks a turning point in the design of the CRS and undoubtedly represents a major step forward in the safety of the little ones in the car. The improvements for tests are remarkable (incorporating side impact tests, data from Q mannequins...), so i-Size chairs are going to have very high levels of security. Moreover, their ease of use will be very appreciated by users, so we trust to greatly avoid the risk of misuse or incorrect installation.

What are the main criteria to be taken into account when consumers choose a CRS?
A good start would be to read the vehicle manual to find out which type of anchor can be used for the CRS, either belt or isofix anchors. It is also important to know if you have a top tether third point or any other details to consider before installing a CRS. Then you should take into account the weight and size of the child. Also, consumers have a wide variety of products of different prices, depending on whether they are licensed items, the type of installation, etc. It is always advisable to test the chair in situ with the kid himself, checking if it is properly adjusted to his or her physical characteristics.

How do you rate the studies and tests done by third party organizations?
Comparative studies of consumers and automobile clubs are very interesting, as they value some concepts that are mentioned in the regulation in a different or insufficient way, such as ergonomics, ease of use, etc. They provide good information to manufacturers and encourage us to continuously improve our products.

However, these comparative trials have criteria that we do not share at some point. Some brands models are especially prepared for this type of testing, but we have always maintained that the criteria of the trials should be the UNECE Regulation 44 and as of now, also the Regulation 129. Therefore, it is not good that some models are judged according to criteria of trials for which the CRS has not been prepared.

On the other hand, it does not seem logical to compare products with completely different prices, some of which may even be five or six times more expensive than others, as it is similar to comparing high-end cars with utility vehicles. Comparative studies forget to assess the quality / price relation of the items, which is essential to really assess what suits different consumers. We must not forget that there are large segments of society that do not have the necessary financial resources to acquire high-end devices.

How does Babyauto researches new developments in this product category?
In addition to the developments according to the i-Size rule, last year we started very interesting new lines of research. Through our collaboration with the TESSA laboratory at the University of Zaragoza, located in the automotive Motorland complex, we support a research group that is internationally active in impact biomechanics studies. One of its researches is to prioritize the mitigation of head injuries in rear seats, through restrictions preventing head impact without producing damage in the cervical area, and through security technology to better manage the impact energy.

In addition, we are supporting the development of specific biomechanical research tools for children. The main tools for the automotive industry and engineering research community evaluate occupant protection are anthropomorphic test devices (such as dummies), as well as computational models based on these mannequins. In the past 10 years, there has been an increase of critical data in studies of child and biomechanics is important that these data can be incorporated into the design of mannequins in a timely manner. Through our collaboration with researchers at TESSA, we participated in several initiatives to improve pediatric biofidelity in dummies to enhance protection of younger occupants.

We are also studying how to define the positions of children during trips and quantifying the effects of these positions on the risk of injury, in order to assess the behavioral factors that lead to positions that are not optimal for retention, for example, when the child is asleep. We studied improvements in the design of passive safety of vehicles aimed at children in the standard approach, not only designed for adults, and evaluating the likely unintended consequences for children.

How do you explain to specialized retailers all these innovations?
It is very important that retailers raise awareness about the proper installation and use of CRS, as they are the bridge between the brand and consumers. We often talk with sales representatives from stores to answer their questions and, at the same time, to be responsive to the feedback that they give us as they are our liaison with their customers. The questions that arise from manuals, labels, the configuration of the chair, etc., are valuable information for our continuous improvement processes.

Do you think that parents are increasingly aware about security in the vehicle or car seats are mainly used to avoid fines?

The communication campaigns of the DGT [the Spanish traffic public department] and other international bodies help us all to be aware of the importance of a good use of passive safety features of the car, including CRS. Fortunately, Western consumers are well informed and are aware of the dangers of the road. In recent years, we have improved a lot in the use of these devices while it is clear that some users see them as a mere way to avoid fines. But we believe that the vast majority of drivers makes a wise use of CRS because they are aware that their use is exactly like the seat belts for adults - they save lives.

In the process of ensuring the safety of children when travelling in cars, fines have, unfortunately, too much prominence. However, they are a necessary evil to make drivers aware of the elements and good habits that are essential to road safety.

What is your opinion about the i-Size rule?
The i-Size rule helps to update all engineering knowledge of child safety in the car from recent years, enhanced by the proposals of the various UNECE member countries and, therefore, it is an exponential improvement in the characteristics of the CRS and its use. The improvement in safety, quality and ease of use will be noticeable, and users will be the main beneficiaries of it.

In Babyauto we welcome the adoption of the i-Size rules, as well as any other improvements, and we are particularly pleased that the new regulation requires rear-facing as mandatory for all children up to 15 months of age, as it offers improved side impact protection and, of course, it helps dramatically to reduce the misuse of CRS or installation errors.

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