Did you know how many child restraints in vehicles are used incorrectly? Anywhere from 72% to 84% of child restraints show critical misuses. The most common forms of misuse are using the wrong seat for the child’s age and weight, loose safety belt attachment to the car seat and loose harness straps on the child. This is scary because another statistic says 96% of parents believe their child safety seats are installed correctly. Meanwhile these misuses increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.
In fact, this frustration may be the biggest reason for some of the mistakes parents make when installing car seats, such as:
– Ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions for installation.
– Forgetting to read their car owner’s manual to determine the safest place to install the seat in the car.
– Not installing the car seat so that it faces the rear of the car when it is being used for a child under a year old.
– Installing the seat too loosely.
– Leaving the harness straps too loose.
– Failing to use all of the harnesses to secure the child into position.
According to new data released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), properly installing child seats into vehicles continues to be a challenge for parents and other caregivers. There is promise for you with new vehicle designs which IIHS expects will help you on installing a car seat securely. IIHS found in its’ latest testing that the 2016 Toyota Prius, 2016 Lexus RX, and 2017 Audi Q7 earned the organization’s Good+ rating, an award that no vehicles were able to achieve in 2015. Studies have shown that many, if not most, child seats are installed improperly, putting children at grave risk in an accident. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in children over the age of one, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Even 1 inch of side-to-side movement of a car seat in an accident can transfer forces capable of injury to a child.
LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) positions in cars, trucks, and SUVs aim to make it easier to properly install a car seat. You no longer have to deal with weaving seat belts through the child safety seats; instead, you use a system of clips and tethers to secure the seat. LATCH car seat installations themselves are not necessarily safer than child seats properly installed using seat belts, but the odds of proper installation using LATCH are much greater. LATCH hardware has been required in all new cars since 2002, but the placement of the anchor and tether systems by various carmakers has been erratic. According to IIHS, some of the seat anchors and tether locations are buried too deep in the seat, are not positioned well, are not clearly labeled, or are not easy to maneuver around.
There are two components to LATCH: a pair of lower anchors that your car seat clips into and a place for an upper tether to attach. The lower anchors are located where the seatback and seat bottom meet. Some are easier to access than others, with some located so deep in the crevice that they’re hard to find. Top tethers can be located on the back of the seat, on the load floor of SUVs and crossovers, on the rear deck behind the back seats of sedans and coupes, or on the ceiling in some vehicles. In IIHS ratings, tether locations on the upper 85 percent of the seatback or the rear deck are rated higher than those on the floor, ceiling, or far down on the seatback.
IIHS testing also looks at how much force is necessary to install a car seat to the lower anchors, as well as the flexibility of the lower anchors. Proper labeling is critical, and it is also included in the IIHS criteria.
IIHS launched its child seat anchor ratings program in 2015, rating 102 vehicles in its first year. Most were found to be poor or marginal in that initial round of testing. This year, the organization tested 170 vehicles, and most were rated good or acceptable.
The IIHS ratings only take into account the ease of properly installing a child safety seat; they do not address the performance of those systems in case of a crash. A car seat properly installed using a difficult-to-use LATCH system is just as safe as one installed in an easy-to-use configuration.
Vehicles tested fall into one of five categories: Good+, Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. There’s no correlation between vehicle size or price when it comes to success in the rankings. In fact, the 2016 vehicles that ranked at the bottom came from a variety of segments. Those vehicles earning a Poor ranking include the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab, GMC Sierra 1500 crew cab, Infiniti QX50, Ford Fiesta (sedan and hatchback), Hyundai Accent hatchback, Infiniti Q70, and Subaru BRZ.
Ratings can vary within the same models, as differences in seat materials and seating designs can be found with different trim levels. IIHS has worked to include as many of those variations as practical in their ratings, according to spokesman Russ Bader.
Even with the improved LATCH system, some parents may still have difficulties. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends contacting a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician for help. To find a child safety seat inspection station and set up an appointment, call 1-866-SEATCHECK (1-866-732-8243) or log on to www.seatcheck.org.