If you’re a parent, you’re probably confounded by car seats and car seat safety. They can be hard to understand and properly install. And you shudder when you hear how many are not installed properly (nearly half) and yet child deaths in crashes have been reduced by nearly 50% since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These facts fuel the mission of Britax, a brand you probably know. But did you know this 70-year-old company is the #1 brand in safety technology for car seats, strollers and travel systems? Founded as a travel and automotive accessories company, the name is short for British Travel Accessories, which explains why the pronunciation is BRIT-ax and not BRY-tax. 51 years ago Britax realized the need to transport our little ones safely and this became the company’s mission.
Since Child Passenger Safety Week is coming up soon– September 17th-23rd, to be exact–we thought you might like to see what goes into making a Britax car seat, and also, learn more about proper car seat installation.
Designed, engineered and built in the USA. South Carolina, to be exact
Over 90% of Britax car seats are made in the company’s Fort Mill, South Carolina headquarters, just outside of Charlotte. Having all operations in one place is strategic. The company designs and develops all its products – from first sketches to crash testing to assembly and shipping there. They also collaborate with customers, experts, car companies and others to continually hone their products. And, the majority of Britax suppliers are within 200 miles of the company’s headquarters (even though some components are made overseas) to support a sustainable and responsible approach and to ensure quality control.
SheBuysCars took a tour of the Britax HQ for an inside view of the company and the process that has led to its #1 safety rating. What struck us from the start is the dedication to innovation at all turns, from printing out test parts on a 3D printer to an on-site test facility. And to be sure the company is designing and building products that meet customers needs as well as lead industry standards, they collaborate with customers, parents, car companies, athletes, organizations and others as they design and build their products.
Looking good matters (almost) as much as performance
Our tour started in the design lab, where fashion meets innovation. The fashion team works with new product designs to outfit them with visual and functional fabrics; from colorful design palettes to innovative types of fabrics, they work to ensure the products work well both with the products and for customers.
From the fashion workroom we went to the design and engineering lab. There we met designers who were building prototypes of future products. Armed with a 3D printer, the team can print components to test out fit and function, make changes and finalize designs.
Britax: not just beautifully designed, but designed to be incredibly rugged, too (cue the test dummies!)
Once a car seat design is approved, it’s tested out in the Sled Lab using ATDs, or anthropomorphic devices, which are commonly known as crash test dummies. The lab maintains a federally regulated ‘family’ of crash test dummies, each representing the size and weight of a potential car seat occupant, used to test out each new seat.
Tests are done on rail-mounted sleds outfitted with automobile seats and the car seats being tested. Sleds can accelerate to replicate a high-speed crash and decelerate to replicate a car being hit. High-definition video and sensors on the dummies show testers exactly what happens in each crash.
You can see the Britax crash test sled in action here and also, the difference between the ATD in the highback booster seat versus the one in a simple booster seat.
On site crash testing: A unique advantage in creating a safer car seat
Britax is one of the only child car seat manufacturers in the United States with its own on-site crash testing facility in the US. The company decided to invest in this so that they can immediately test a change in a design, quickly adapt changes in child safety seat regulation, and address issues as they pop up. The Sled Lab uses the same technology that is used by auto manufacturers like General Motors and Ford to test the safety of their cars.
Most car seats are sent to a third party for safety testing but Britax doesn’t have to; its tests are accepted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and by Canadian safety regulators. Britax conducts numerous tests for each seat, new seats, and those with improvements or modifications.
Innovative technologies that keep your kids safer
Here’s a fun fact about Britax: the company developed the widely used LATCH safety technology. LATCH, the acronym for Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children, became universal when, at the request of the US government, Britax waived its rights to the patents so LATCH systems could become the standard for all new cars.
And the innovation continues at the Britax on-site design and testing lab. The lab allowed Britax to develop its SafeCell technology—a shock absorbing honeycomb-like core at the base of all its seats designed to absorb the shock of an impact. And the red stitches on its belts work like anti-lock brakes, slowly stopping the release of the belt in an impact so that it doesn’t cause unintentional harm by constraining too tightly.
Currently, only standards for front and rear crashes exist, not side impact, though this is something that Britax has been testing for years. In fact, in 2009, Britax launched the Advocate CS, which was the first seat in the world to feature side impact cushion technology.
Side impact crashes represent 25 percent of collisions and result in the most severe injuries. Britax car seats were designed with these statistics in mind. They’re one of the few companies which offers extra layers of protection in their various products including protective shells, energy-absorbing headrests, and side-impact cushions. Energy-absorbing side-impact cushions on the exterior of the child seat significantly reduce side impact crash energy by diverting crash forces away from your child and providing extra protection for the adjacent passenger.
A unique approach to assembly ensures cross-functional expertise
The company is dedicated to innovation that enables safe travel and gives its customers peace of mind. This mission plays out not just in the safety ratings, but throughout the company’s headquarters. The company is dedicated to sustainability and also to being a great place for employees to work.
To keep assembly employees engaged and make sure they don’t get fatigued by a certain job, people learn all the assembly jobs and then rotate through them. This also assures high quality standards because everyone on the assembly team understands the function and full product needs. Many have been with the company since it opened the Fort Mill assembly plant in 1997.
The Wall of Pride reminds employees why what they do is important and meaningful
At the entrance to the Britax offices a wall is decorated with letters from customers and, chillingly, photos of crashes that children survived in Britax car seats. It’s hard to read some of these without getting teary. Some of the cars are unrecognizable and yet, with the car seat properly installed, the child survived. The wall is a great testament to the mission and the dedication the company and its team members bring to work every day. And it’s also a reminder of the importance of the job they do: protecting our children.
Britax engineers their products to exceed the safety standards set by the federal government (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213) for car seats. In fact, Britax conducts twice the number of tests required by NHTSA, as well as side-impact testing for car seats and extended rolling-road and durability testing for strollers. They also continually enhance their products with new technologies that distribute crash forces away from a child during a crash.
Are your car seats installed properly?
Sarah Tilton, Britax’s in-house car seat safety expert, shows us some key points on proper installation.