As many parts of the U.S. begin to see life moving closer to normal, more and more people are going to be on the roads.
Many of those trips are going to require parents, grandparents or other family members to cart an infant from Point A to Point B, and that means using a car seat. Installation of those devices is often difficulty, causing frustration and delays.
Even exercising patience doesn’t ensure proper installation of car seats. In the U.S., 95% of infant car seats have at least one major installation error, according to the Journal of Pediatrics. Ensuring that a car seat is correctly locked in place is the only way to be certain it will perform correctly in the event of a collision.
Fortunately, a trio of Toyota engineers created a “digital toolkit” to help parents make sure they’re getting the job done correctly. Dubbed Toyota for Families, it features detailed installation instructions and a video for the 2021 Toyota Sienna with more vehicles to come.
Engineers with a solution
For anyone who has struggled with a car seat, it can seem like the job is best left to a rocket scientist or engineer. That said, engineers struggle too. In fact, it was chat between two Toyota engineers during lunch one day that created potential solution to help parents and other caregivers with this problem.
Toyota engineers Jennifer Pelky and Lindsay Babian were eating lunch together at the automaker’s research and development facility when they began comparing notes about their experiences with car seats and how much trouble they were having with them.
“I designed the parts for securely attaching a car seat myself, yet there is still some confusion about proper car seat installation, which can become a real problem,” Babian said. “When Jen approached me with this, I saw the need for a solution. Now, parents, caregivers and grandparents who find it a challenge will have a tool to help them succeed.”
As Pelky and Babian began to work on solving the problem, they enlisted the help of Janelle Pharris, a mom of two and advanced technology senior planner for Toyota, whose previous work background includes marketing for Newell Brands’ Graco line of car seats and strollers. The trio developed it as a passion project, working remotely during the pandemic: Pelky and Babian in Michigan and Pharris in Texas.
The trio had good reason to create the app as car crashes are a leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates car seats are installed or used incorrectly in 46% of cases, and when drivers were unrestrained, 63% of children were also unrestrained.
There’s an app for that!
The newly launched kit focuses on installation in a — surprise! — minivan: the 2021 Toyota Sienna. It is available as part of the Toyota Owners App and on ToyotaOwners.com. The plan is to expand the offering to cover “other fleet vehicles over the next few years.”
On the Toyota website or within the Toyota Owners App, users select their vehicle or enter the VIN. Users then select the car seat location they want and then enter the type of car seat they have: forward-facing, rear-facing or booster seat. If they’re unsure which one they should use, the toolkit also has a “help-me-choose” guide they can select based on their child’s age and weight.
Next, the app shows the user a custom video and written step-by-step instructions detailing installation of a generic child seat into the specific vehicle, in the specific position and installation method they’ve selected: LATCH or seat belt. If there’s a known incompatibility with their choice, the system is designed to automatically flag it and prompts them to choose a valid option.
To help prevent mistakes, the video shows critical steps necessary to achieve correct installation. The video will also show additional steps, such as how to remove a headrest, if that’s something necessary prior to installing the car seat.