Poor Design by Automakers Makes Child Safety Seats Difficult to Install According to New Study

A full decade after federal regulators began requiring that all passenger vehicles accommodate the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, a new study finds that the majority of vehicles do not make it easy for parents concerned about protecting their most precious cargo.

The joint research project conducted by the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that the design of most rear seats makes the LATCH system difficult and frustrating to use.

Of the 98 passenger vehicles included in the study, only 21 had LATCH designs that were considered “easy” to use. Only seven had LATCH anchors located in the middle of the rear seat – a location which the study’s author cited as the safest possible location for children to be seated.  All seven vehicles with anchors located in the middle of the second-row seats were 2010-11 model vehicles.

In the study, three different child car seats were tested by 36 volunteers who said they regularly used child car seats or booster seats in their personal vehicles. According to researchers, only 13 percent of all attempts resulted in correct installations.

I.I.H.S.’s senior vice president for research and a co-author of the study Anne T. McCartt said, “It was kind of surprising to some of us, but to give them some slack they were not installing their own restraint in their own vehicle.  But we knew from research we did 10 years ago that some vehicle LATCH systems are easier to use than others.” McCartt went on to say, “Some of the things we saw were pretty obviously a problem and shouldn’t be that difficult to fix.”

The LATCH system, which has been required on all passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. since model year 2003, consists of lower attachments which anchor child safety seats and booster seats at an area known as the seat bight where the lower and back seat cushions meet, and tethers which secure the top of the seat to the ceiling, seat back, floor or cargo area.

In the I.I.H.S. and Michigan University study, correct child seat installation occurred at the highest rate in vehicles in which the lower anchors were mounted no more than three quarters of an inch deep in the seat bight and where the anchors were clearly visible. In a number of vehicles, the anchors were obstructed by the seat cushions or plastic housings.

A separate study conducted by Safe Kids USA and released last September also found that top mounted tethers on forward-facing child safety seats were only being used about 28 percent of the time.  When the tethers were used, the study found that they were incorrectly installed nearly 60 percent of the time.

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