Push for car makers to make car seats easier to attach

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Automakers are making improvements when it comes to keeping children safe in a car seat, but a watchdog group says some manufacturers need to do a better job at making it easier to attach those seats.

Under federal law, vehicles manufactured on or after Sept. 1, 2002, need to have a LATCH system to make car seat installations easier.

LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children.

Although a vehicle’s seatbelt can be used to secure car seats, experts say the LATCH system works better. However, sometimes finding the anchor points for the LATCH system can be difficult, making parents less likely to use them.

“We know when parents use LATCH to install child restraints, they’re more likely to get a good, tight installation,” said Jessica Jermakian, who is a senior research engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

In the IIHS rating system, LATCH hardware is considered good if it meets the following criteria:

  • The lower anchors are no more than a three-quarter inch deep within the seat bight — the place where the seatback meets the bottom seat cushion — or slightly deeper if there is open access around them.
  • 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 representing a child seat connector to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds.
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or in the middle 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 earn a good rating, two LATCH positions in the second row must meet all five criteria, and a third tether anchor must meet both tether criteria.

Anchor points are sometimes more difficult to find in certain models of cars. 

“Automakers have a lot of flexibility on where they can put that hardware, so what’s easiest for them is sometimes harder for you,” Jermakian said.

Some parents say it’s worth it to find the anchor point, no matter how difficult.

“My car seats do have the seat belt and LATCH and the LATCH makes it more secure. So it’s worth it to figure out the LATCH,” said parent Jessica Markum.

The IIHS tests LATCH anchor points the same way for every vehicle it rates.

“We use a set of standardized tools,” said Jermakian. “The techs go through every vehicle to take measurements like force measurements and clearance measurements.”

To encourage car makers to make the anchor points more accessible, the IIHS rates vehicles based on how easy it is to find and use them. it said that’s a real incentive.

“Automakers don’t want to be seen as having a difficult-to-use latch or not making child passenger safety a priority,” she said.

Parent Taylor Winters said she would be more inclined to buy a car based on the rating that it’s easier to latch.

“That’s something we look for,” she said.

Nearly three-quarters of 2019 vehicles tested by IIHS now have LATCH anchors rated good or acceptable for ease of use.

The institute said that, just three years ago, most vehicles were ranked poor or unacceptable in LATCH accessibility. That is something to consider when shopping for a used car because there are still many vehicles out there with older, more difficult to find anchor points.

Click here to look at a full list of rankings for 2019 cars. 

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