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Just a reminder that the MB chat is on tonight (6-7pm Pacific/9-10 pm Eastern). Hope to see you there!http://www.edmunds.com/townhall/chat/mercedeschat.html
I think that the rear side airbags are safe for children so long as you can keep them from leaning against them (especially sleeping against them). That would be the parents' or caregiver's responsibility.
However, as mentioned previously, even a restrained child can still dip his/her head toward the airbag. Restraints do not pin their necks and heads into a fixed position, especially booster seats and child seats without a five-point harness. My son is too young to understand commands to adjust his head positioning, and he leans quite a bit.
What can help alleviate concerns is a very deeply bolstered seat, or rather, one with deep "side wings." The deep side wings will cradle the child's head and keep them from leaning against the side airbag. The side wings, which have hollow plastic and perhaps some padding, should substantially reduce any risk since they're between the airbag and the baby's head.
For convertible seats, to me there's no contest, Britax Roundabout or Britax Advantage are great seats, and they have deep side wings that cradle a dozing child's head:
(My son's head is covered by the deepest part of the wing.)
For folks whose kids have outgrown convertible seats, I think a major key to alleviating rear side airbags concern (namely my own) could be in new "youth" seats as alternatives to booster seats. E.g. here's a "conventional" Britax booster, which is an excellent seat:
However, there is nothing to discourage the head from leaning against the rear side airbag if the child dozes off. The lap/shoulder belt will not do as much to restrain the child as a 5-point harness. Here is the "new" Britax Super Elite, which is a booster alternative:
This new seat, still revving up into full production, is basically a giant forward-facing only toddler seat that goes to 80 lbs! I'm not sure if its side wings are deep enough to control a dozing kid's head movement, but I'm hoping it is (I will need to see one in person but it's not widely available yet). Plus it has a 5-point harness that may well keep a child more "tightly wrapped" than a booster-positioned lap/shoulder belt.
When my son outgrows his Roundabout I'm going to a Super Elite. Its main drawback, besides its typical high (but worth it) Britax price is that it is a very bulky seat and will take a good chunk of room in the backseat.
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