The number one problem parents and caregivers face when trying to install a car seat is fighting the seat buckles and finding the safety latches. It can be a beat down and often times, the car seat ends up being incorrectly installed. When they can, parents will often install a car seat in each auto just so they don’t have to endure the installation process.
A new study reveals what many parents already know; many of the problems stem from the vehicle design. According to a new study by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit group financed by the insurance industry, many vehicle rear seat designs makes attaching a car seat very difficult.
“This is a long standing problem, and we think it’s time to fix it,” said Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research and one of the report’s authors, noting that installing a car seat is frequently not as simple as people may think
The study found that belt buckles or other seat hardware often got in the way of the connectors for car seats, or the connectors are buried so far in the seat, that they were often difficult to locate.
Another issue noted in a previous study was the “tether” that is designed to secure the top part of the forward-facing car seat in the event of a crash. Tethers are intended to help prevent child restraints from moving too far forward during crashes, which put children at risk of head or neck injuries
Using a tether “is essential,” said McCartt. Many parents do not understand how important it is, and may not think about using the tether when they move their child from a rear facing restraints to a forward one, she said. Seatbelts can also be used instead of a tether, but it is critical that they be in lock mode, so the belt is not freely moving, experts say.
In 2003, a federal regulation went into effect that was designed to correct the attachment hardware difficulty. It’s called LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. But nearly a decade later, less than a quarter of the models surveyed had accomplished this, as many automakers are not paying attention to the key factors that make LATCH work, the report found.
During the research, conducted in conjunction with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, LATCH hardware and rear seat designs were scrutinized in a range of passenger vehicles that were marketed to families. But only 21 of the 98 top-selling 2010-11 model vehicles evaluated were found to have LATCH designs that are easy to use.
Researchers identified three factors associated with correct lower anchor use: depth, clearance and force.
- Depth: Lower anchors should be located no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat bight and should be easy to see.
- Clearance: Nothing should obstruct access to the anchors. Safety belt buckles and other hardware plus the foam, cloth or leather material of the seats themselves shouldn't get in the way of attaching child seat connectors. There should be enough room around the anchors to approach them at an angle, as well as straight-on. This makes it easier to hook or snap on connectors and also tighten LATCH straps. In the study, a clearance angle of at least 54 degrees was associated with easier installation.
- Force: Parents should be able to install child restraints using less than 40 pounds of force. Some systems require lots of effort to properly attach child seat hardware with lower anchors, in part because they are deep in the seat bight or surrounded by interfering parts of the vehicle seat.
All three factors are related and are good predictors of how well people are able to correctly install child restraints. Vehicles meeting the criteria were 19 times as likely to have lower anchors used correctly by the volunteers compared with vehicles that don't meet any of the criteria.
"These are things that automakers can do to improve child restraint installations, and most of them aren't hard," McCartt says. "Lower anchors can be designed so they are easy to use."
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website (www.iihs.org) lists the 2011 models that met all 3 easy –installation criteria. They are:
- Audi A4 Quattro
- Cadillac Escalade
- Chevrolet Equinox LT
- Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab
- Chevrolet Suburban LT
- Chevrolet Tahoe LS
- Chrysler Town & Country (2010)
- Dodge Caliber Mainstreet
- Dodge Grand Caravan Crew
- Dodge Ram 1500 crew cab
- Ford Escape XLT
- Ford F-150 SuperCrew Cab
- GMC Sierra 1500 crew cab SLE
- Honda Pilot EX-L
- Kia Sedona LX
- Land Rover Range Rover Sport
- Mercedes-Benz C300
- Mercedes-Benz E350
- Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe GS
- Mitsubishi Lancer ES
- Toyota Tacoma extended cab
The 2011 models that did not meet any easy-installation criteria are:
- Buick Enclave CX
- Chevrolet Impala LT
- Dodge Avenger Express
- Ford Flex SEL
- Ford Taurus Limited
- Hyundai Sonata Limited
- Toyota Sienna XLE
Parents and caregivers want to do the right thing to protect their child when they are in the car. Let's hope auto manufacturers get the message and start doing what they are supposed to do to help protect our children as well.