Vehicle Restraint Systems For Children Do Not Pass The Parent Test
April 13, 2012

Vehicle Restraint Systems For Children Do Not Pass The Parent Test

John Neumann for

Child restraint systems, if you have ever used them, can be a frustrating experience for those who have been travelling with children, even for years. The belts, buckles, snaps and straps never seem to end.

There was an attempt many years ago to standardize the base of child car seats so that they could easily be transferred between vehicles, a system called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or (LATCH).

Largely successful, the system required vehicles to have a minimum of two metal anchors, clearly marked, that the LATCH system could connect to, securing the base of the child seat.  However, since that time, vehicle manufacturers have been hiding these anchors deeper in between seat cushions and making the markings for them less obvious, reports USA Today.

Research conducted jointly between the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) found only 21 of 98 top-selling 2010 and 2011 model year vehicles have seat designs that were found to be relatively are easy to use with the LATCH system.

Seven of the vehicles failed all ease-of-use tests that were conducted, the Buick Enclave CX, Chevrolet Impala LT, Dodge Avenger Express, Ford Flex SEL, Ford Taurus Limited, Hyundai Sonata Limited and Toyota Sienna XLE.

Anne McCartt, a senior vice president for research at IIHS and one of the report´s authors explains, “Installing a child restraint isn´t always as simple as a couple of clicks and you´re done. Sometimes parents blame themselves when they struggle with LATCH, but oftentimes the problem lies with the vehicle, not the user.”

The cars, SUVs and pickups were tested based on whether the child-seat anchors were visible, easily accessible and usable without excessive force. If you needed to exert more than 40 pounds of force, the vehicle didn´t pass muster. IIHS and UMTRI also took some vehicles to task for not having LATCH anchors for the rear center seat.

The vehicles were tested by 36 volunteers, who use child restraints daily in their own vehicles, installing three styles of child restraints in three vehicles. If they had questions about how to install the seats, they could consult owners´ manuals but received no other assistance.

The study found only 13 percent of the volunteers installed seats properly with lower anchors and top tethers with a tight, secure fit at the correct angle, according to the insurance group, reports Jerry Hirsch for the Chicago Tribune.

The study identified improvements and recommendations after the study. The metal loops that are clamped with the seat base should be located no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat cushion and should be easy to see. Also, no more than 40 pounds of force should be needed to attach the anchors to the seat clamps.

“These are things that automakers can do to improve child restraint installations, and most of them aren´t hard,” said McCartt. “Lower anchors can be designed so they are easy to use.”

“Our results provide design guidelines for vehicle manufacturers on how to make LATCH easier for parents to use,” said UMTRI assistant research scientist Kathy Klinich, lead author of the study. “We were happy to see that most manufacturers tested have some vehicles that meet the new criteria.”

Download the technical report LATCH Usability in Vehicles (PDF).