For most parents, installing car seats probably ranks as one of the more difficult things they do for their kids’ safety. And now, a report out last week by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS – the same organization that does the “Top Safety Picks” for new car models each year) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute indicates that seat designs on new car models are making it even harder for parents to install car safety seats properly.
The study looked at LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) designs in 98 top-selling 2010-2011 model passenger vehicles and found that only 21 of them have LATCH designs that are easy to use. This is unfortunate news, as LATCH was designed to make proper installation of safety seats easier by standardizing attachment hardware.
While the goal of LATCH is to increase the number of children who ride properly restrained, this study indicates that perhaps the system isn’t working as well as we’d like. That, however, is simply more reason for parents to understand the basics of proper car safety seat installation and know where they can find help if they’re not sure if a seat is as safe as it can be.
The basics are pretty simple:
- Read the instruction book that comes with each seat. Every manufacturer is different and it is important to know the specifics for the seat or seats you are installing.
- There should also be a section in your vehicle owner’s manual about car seats or child restraints which you should also read to know how to use the seat belts and where the LATCH and tether anchors are in your vehicle.
- If you’re only installing a safety seat for one child, it should be installed in the middle of the back seat, if possible. Many vehicles do not have LATCH anchors in the middle position which means that the seat should be secured with the seatbelt. Do not use one LATCH anchor from each side unless BOTH the vehicle and car seat manufacturer say it is ok.
- If LATCH anchors and tethers are available in a particular seat position, do not also try to use the seatbelt. It’s a one or the other kind of thing when both are available.
- If using the LATCH anchors, don’t forget to also use the tethers when seats are forward facing. They’re an important component of the LATCH system and are necessary for keeping children as safe as possible in case of an accident.
- Safety seats should be in tight. When properly installed, a seat will not move more than an inch from side to side or away from the back of the seat. You may need to put some extra weight in the seat to get it in tight (try putting a knee in the seat and pulling on the straps at the same time).
- The angle or recline of a seat should match manufacturer recommendations. The manual that you read before you started installing the seat will have this information and will explain how you will know if you have the angle correct.
If a particular seat is new to you or if you’re installing safety seats in a new vehicle for the first time, it’s a good idea to seek some help to make sure the seats are installed properly.
Many fire stations have trained technicians who can inspect your safety seats and help you make adjustments if needed. A list of fitting stations in the Greater Cincinnati area can be found via the orange link available on this page, and appointments are available on weekdays at our Oak Campus – please call 513-636-7865 for more information or to schedule an appointment.
Additionally, a car seat check event is scheduled this Wed., April 18, 2012 at the Liberty Township fire department from 1:30-3:30 pm at 6682 Princeton Glendale Road, Liberty Township, OH 45011. Please stop by with your seats if you’ll be in the area at that time.
While we understand that getting these safety seats into the car properly can be a difficult process, we can’t stress enough how important it is to take the time to do it right. This study, while disappointing, isn’t a huge deal, because at the end of the day, it is our job as parents to make sure that our kids are restrained during travel. A car with difficult to use LATCH hardware isn’t an excuse for a poorly installed safety seat. I hope if you have one of the cars on the “difficult” list, that we will see you at a fitting station soon!
Susan Laurence is an Injury Prevention Coordinator in the Comprehensive Children’s Injury Center at Cincinnati Children’s. She manages the fitting station program and also serves as an instructor for that program. Susan works with the Ohio Department of Health as a Regional Occupant Protection Coordinator covering eight counties in Southwest Ohio.