Toyota�s New App For Installing Child Safety Seats

Toyota�s New App For Installing Child Safety Seats
Toyota App
Photo Credit: Toyota

Not sure how to install your child�s car seat correctly? Well, Toyota now has an app to help you. It�s launching as part of a new Toyota for Families digital toolkit designed for parents accessible through the Toyota Owners App and Initially available for the all-new 2021 Sienna, it will expand to other models in the future. The App download is available for iPhone or Android smartphones.

The new app is the brainchild of two Toyota engineers and moms who started coming up with the idea while on their cafeteria lunch break in 2019.

Jennifer Pelky is a Toyota principal engineer of vehicle performance development for interior safety, vice chair-elect of the National Child Passenger Safety Board, and mother of two. Lindsay Babian is a Toyota principal engineer of body design for seats and mother of one. While having lunch in the cafeteria of Toyota's Michigan R&D facility in 2019, the two moms started talking about the confusion of installing different makes of child car seats in different types of vehicles. They decided if they were professional safety engineers and designers struggling with car seats, then many parents, grandparents and guardians also probably needed more help and information.

"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."

Always striving for safety improvement

Despite best efforts, vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death among American children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Though car seat technology has improved considerably from the days of children sitting on telephone books or riding on package trays, research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that over half of all car seats are installed incorrectly.

Proper installation and use of car seats can reduce injuries in a crash by more than 70% (NHTSA) , and booster seats can reduce the risk of injury by 45% (CDC). To take advantage of those safety benefits, consumers could use more information about proper car seat installation in vehicles. COVID-19 also created an even greater need for easier access to instruction, since social distancing requirements make it more difficult for parents to get the in-person installation help they often need. Pelky and Babian set out to provide more accessible information.

"With all the different seat combinations that exist in many vehicles, people can use more assistance," Pelky said.

Toyota awarded Toyota for Families a winner in both its internal Innovation Fair and Tank2 competitions.Credit: Toyota.

The team also 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. During development, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing all to work remotely - Pelky and Babian in Michigan and Pharris in Texas. It was a true labor of love for all three.

"We really took joy working on this project, because it allowed us to combine our passions of being a mom and wanting to ensure the best for our children and all children," Pharris said. "We each have a passion for reaching consumers to help get them to a place of comfort by expanding their knowledge."

Modern issues and modern solutions

Toyota drivers can use the app to find video and written instructions for installing their type of car seat in a specific seating position in their vehicle.

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.

Car Seat
Toyota engineer Jennifer Pelky. Credit: Toyota.

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.

Toyota envisions a variety of use cases for the toolkit.

Prospective customers at home or in a showroom can learn about family safety and convenience features while shopping for their vehicles.

Dealerships can use it as an education tool for customers to learn about safety and convenience features of their newly purchased vehicle. Or, if a customer comes in for service and has questions, the dealership can use it to help answer them.

Toyota plans to expand video directions and written content to other fleet vehicles over the next few years.

For more on Child Car Seats check out our guide here.