Hardware Designed To Make Child Car Seat Installation Easy Is Often Difficult To Use

When driving with the most precious of cargo — your child — you obviously want to ensure that youngster is as safe as possible, but what good are the newest child safety measures if they’re too complicated to use?

LATCH (aka ISOFIX) stands for “Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children,” and describes a standards setup of connections — anchors nestled in the fold where the seatback meats the seat bottom cushion; a top tether connects the top of the child seat to an anchor located on the vehicle’s rear shelf, seatback, floor, cargo area or ceiling.

This system has been required on all new cars in the U.S. for more than a decade, but a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (aka the folks that smash cars into walls on purpose) found more than half of 102 vehicles containing LATCH hardware rated “poor” or “marginal” when it comes to ease of use — and only three vehicles (BMW 5 series, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, and the Volkswagen Passat) received a “good” rating. [Scroll down to see full ratings list.]

The entire purpose of LATCH is to make it easier to install child seats in vehicles, but IIHS found that car makers aren’t doing enough to make the hardware accessible for vehicle owners.

“Parents often struggle to locate the anchors in the vehicle or find it’s difficult to attach the seats to them,” says Jessica Jermakian, an IIHS senior research scientist.

To judge ease-of-use, IIHS used the following criteria:

  • The lower anchors are no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat bight (i.e., where the seat back and bottom seat cushion meet).
  • The lower anchors are easy to maneuver around. This is defined as having a clearance angle greater than 54 degrees.
  • The force required to attach a standardized tool to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds.
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or on the top 85% of the seatback. They shouldn’t be at the very bottom of the seatback, under the seat, on the ceiling or on the floor.
  • The area where the tether anchor is found doesn’t have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor. If other hardware is present, then the tether anchor must have a clear label located within 3 inches of it.

To achieve a “good” rating from IIHS, vehicles had to have two LATCH positions meet all five criteria, and a third tether anchor also must be easy to use.

For an “acceptable” rating, two LATCH positions must each meet at least 2 of the 3 requirements for lower anchors and at least 1 of the 2 tether anchor requirements.

If either position meets neither of the tether anchor requirements or meets only one of the lower anchor requirements, then the vehicle was rated as “marginal.” If even fewer criteria are met, the vehicle rated “poor.”

Here’s how all the tested vehicles panned out. Note that this is only for ease-of-use. The IIHS says that even vehicles that rated “poor” are safe if used properly.

latch

IIHS launches ease-of-use ratings of LATCH hardware in vehicles [The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]