Seat Heaters Still Too Hot

In October 2014, Keith and Tammie Jo Smith took a two-hour car ride from Pine Bluff, Arkansas to their home in Bastrop, Louisiana. According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, in Monroe Louisiana, as he exited his 2008 Chevrolet Suburban, Keith Smith put his hands on the driver’s seat and noticed that it seemed unusually hot to the touch. But, he never noticed it while driving, because an on-the-job injury had rendered Smith a paraplegic since July 1991.

Seat Heater Safety Takes a Back Seat

Four years ago, Safety Research & Strategies, along with nationally recognized burn care specialists, raised an issue long neglected by automakers and the regulators: seat heater safety. This comfort feature -- often designed to reach maximum temperatures that range far above human tolerances – can and does pose dangers to occupants, but it is rarely investigated or recalled.

Taking the Burn Out of Seat Heaters

Back in February, SRS wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and National Mobility Equipment Dealers about the problem of car seat heaters and drivers with lower body sensory deficits, such as paraplegics and diabetics (See It's Time to Make Seat Heaters Safer). Many consumer heating devices that make direct contact with the body, such as electric blankets, are designed with maximum temperature limits, but not so in the auto industry. In the absence of any regulation or industry standard, vehicle manufacturers have implemented a variety of designs, some of which lack an automatic cut-off and reach maximum temperatures that can produce third-degree burns or both.

For occupants who have limited or no sensations below the waist, these designs are dangerous. The medical literature has been documenting severe burns suffered by disabled drivers and passengers from car seat heaters since 2003, and nationally recognized burn care specialists joined our effort to engage adapters, regulators and manufacturers in averting these preventable injuries.

It’s Time to Make Seat Heaters Safer

Today, Safety Research & Strategies called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the industry to correct a longstanding safety problem: seat heaters that injure disabled drivers and passengers. With no government or industry-wide standards, manufacturers have installed a variety of seat heater systems – some that  reach temperatures significantly above human tolerances or have no automatic shut-off mechanism – or both. While most drivers know when to turn a hot seat off, occupants with lower body sensory deficits don’t feel the burn.

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