Understanding car seat test results

There are two different types of tests to consider. The first type is the crash tests carried out by NCAP or VTI or any other reputed crash test site. These crash tests are done by independent organisations that do not sell or manufacture car seats. The crash tests look at different aspects of the seat, such as how much the seat slides on the car seat, if it stays in place in the crash vehicle, how the dummy in the seat "survives" the test, if the dummy hits any part of the crash vehicle etc. The tests only look at safety issues.

Different criteria are set for different crash tests. They can be carried out at different speeds, or they can have different criteria for how to install the seat (if the researcher should look in the manual or try to install it by just looking at the stickers on the seat body etc.). When looking at the results, it is important that you check what the criteria for the test were, so that you can accurately understand the result.

The second type of test is the consumer test. This is the test you will find in your parental magazine, for instance. Consumer magazines take ECE approved seats, usually assuming that all ECE approved seats are as safe as each other, and then they test the seats to see how consumer friendly they are. They would look at what type of material is used (is it removable, can it be washed), how easy the seat is to install, how easy it is to change the harness position, how easy it is to lift the child in and out etc. These tests do not say anything about how safe the seat is, so the fact that a seat scores well in a consumer test is not a guarantee that it is a safe seat for your child.

Some tests combine the information in a crash test with the information in a consumer test and grade the scores to get an overall score. A seat that scores well in this type of test could be the best seat to buy but the result could also be misleading. Generally, seats do not score well if they are heavy or if there are many steps to the installation process, but heavy seats are generally safer in a crash and many installation steps are not a disadvantage unless you actually skip some of the steps and end up with a seat that is not installed as per the instructions, which would be very dangerous for your child. NOTE that 7 out of 10 seats in the UK are, statistically, not installed properly! Make sure that it is not your child's seat that is incorrectly installed!

The important information to look at in a test is how safe the seat is. What sort of forces would the head and neck be subjected to in a crash? How well is the head protected in side impact crashes? What is the chest acceleration? Does the seat slide? Does the harness buckle open in the crash? Does the seat come loose in the vehicle? Is the crash test dummy ejected out of the vehicle?

It is also worth noting that some tests will test all seats in a forward facing position, even if the seats are meant to be rear facing. In this sort of tests, the rear facing seats will not score well as they are installed incorrectly, are heavier than their forward facing counterparts and do not protect in the way they are meant to. Thus, rear facing seats don't tend to get great scores in these tests and some people see that as "proof" that the seats are not safer than forward facing seats, but extensive research carried out by the Swedish insurance company Folksam (over 40 years of research), Swedish VTI (Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute), Volvo, and SIS (Swedish Standards Institute) among others confirm without a doubt that rear facing seats are five times safer than forward facing seats, mainly because of the reduction in forces that the head and neck, as well as many internal organs, are subjected to.

On this page we have links to sites with crash tests and consumer tests. Keep the points above in mind when you look at the results. If you have problem understanding Scandinavian test results and would like a translation or summary, contact us and we will help you.

If you find other tests that are not featured on this site, let us know and we will add them.

testfakta.se test (Swedish) - Rear facing
smartson.se 2007 (Swedish) - Rear facing
smartson.se 2005 (Swedish) - Rear facing
Which? Report 2009 (English) - Forward facing
ntf.se test (Swedish) - Rear facing
Kindersitz-Test 2007 (German) - Forward facing
ADAC Test 2009 - Forward and rear facing (German)