USA TODAY US Edition
IIHS child-safety seat study passes only 21 of 98 vehicles
Seats were supposed to be easier to install
Vehicle back-seat designs can make it hard to install childsafety seats correctly — despite changes required a decade ago to make the process easy, according to a new report out today.
Just 21 of 98 vehicles tested met all of the requirements for ease of use, says the report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Seven of the 2011 vehicles didn’t meet any requirements.
The attachment system, known as LATCH (for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), was mandated a decade ago because inspections frequently found child-safety seats were installed incorrectly. A 2004 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found three out of four child seats and booster seats had “critical misuse” problems that could increase the risk of injury.
Cars, SUVS and pickups were tested based on whether the child-seat anchors were visible, easily accessible and usable without excessive force. For example, if more than 40 pounds of force was needed to secure the seat, the vehicle didn’t pass muster.
Parents may blame themselves, but often these days, “the problem lies with the vehicle, not the user,” said IIHS senior vice president of research and study co-author Anne Mccartt.
The study found belt buckles or other seat hardware can get in the way of the child-seat connectors, or the anchors can be buried so far in the seat that they’re hard to reach. The researchers also found most parents fail to use the upper tether that is designed to secure the top part of the car seat in the event of a crash. These straps prevent front-facing child seats from moving forward too much in a crash, which can cause head or neck injuries.
In a statement, Chrysler noted that “there are many different sizes and shapes of child restraint systems on the market” that automakers have to consider. Ford said LATCH “ease of use . . . is highly dependent on the design of the child-restraint hardware that attaches to the anchor.”
Child-safety advocate Joseph Colella acknowledges it isn’t easy. After his 3-year-old niece died in a 1994 crash in a child seat that didn’t fit the car, Colella pushed to make child seats more compatible. His efforts led to the federal panel that recommended LATCH.
“Compatibility issues need to be taken seriously by manufacturers,” Colella says. “A 2012 vehicle needs to work with today’s car seat designs, but it must also be compatible with models developed over the next 20 years.”
Trade groups representing car- and child-seat makers have a joint working group to address such issues.