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Study suggests child car seats not as safe as they could be

There are 40-somethings alive today who probably should thank their lucky stars. That's because when they were tiny tots, they might have been riding around in their parent's cars without the benefit of a child safety seat.

A general history of these devices reveals that they haven't been around that long. Indeed, the site Safe Ride 4 Kids notes that the first child restraint law was enacted in 1979 and it took another six years to get every other state on board. But even today, not every parent bothers to follow the laws.

These days, not only are car seats required in Connecticut and everywhere else, the experts say the smallest of children should be in rear-facing car seats for at least their first year of life. That's because studies have shown that children fare better in that type of gear. But now there's a new study that asks, are those seats as safe as they could be?

The research, done by a forensics team in Pennsylvania, found that infant-sized crash dummies in rear-facing car seats exposed to rear-end crashes can experience a rebound that thrusts their head into the seat back they are facing. And the scientists say the evidence indicates their injuries would be more severe with seats secured using the so-called LATCH system, as opposed to seat belts.

LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. The systems have been required in most vehicles built since the 2003 model year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, LATCH systems are supposed to make it easier for parents to get the child seats set properly every time.

The researchers stress they are not saying that the rear-facing seats are unsafe, only that they could be safer. Some child safety experts agree the issue deserves more study, but they say they're worried now that the study might confuse some parents.

Statistics indicate that more children are hurt or killed in accidents from the front, but the researchers say their work shows that rear-end collisions could do a lot of damage, too. One thing that is certain. Regardless of the point of impact, victims have a right to pursue compensation if driver negligence or product defect contributed to their injuries.

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