The Chicago Tribune is shaking a rattle at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Its investigation has found 31 cases of infant seats exceeding injury limits or disconnecting from their bases during federal vehicle frontal impact crash tests. The NHTSA slams countless cars into barriers each year, like the 2008 Dodge Caravan in the gallery below. In addition to the sensor-laden crash dummies, some of the vehicles are also fitted with infant or child seats. According to the Tribune, the unreported child seat failures in those tests – crashes conducted only to test vehicle safety, not the safety of the child seats – has uncovered a serious flaw in infant/child seat testing.

In the United States today, infant seats are only tested on a sled. Before being sold, the seats must demonstrate the ability to survive a "simulated" head-on crash at 30 mph. On the other hand, the NHTSA crashes actual vehicles into a barrier at 35 mph (although it is only 5 mph faster, the impact is significantly greater). Sled tests are effective in some studies, but they fail to test the variables found among different vehicle interiors and the unique seat designs that change from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Responding to the Tribune report, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a written statement Friday that he ordered a "complete top to bottom review of child safety seat regulations." He will also make changes to make the crash-test results "more available" to consumers. Government crash test regulations have held automakers to the fire, and the result has been much safer vehicles for adults. Now it's time to bring infant/child seat manufacturers to the same flame and improve small occupant safety, as well.

Related Gallery2008 Dodge Grand Caravan Crash Tests

[Source: Freep, image by NHTSA]