Having Trouble Correctly Installing Car Seats? AAA Says You’re In The Majority

September 18, 2012

Any parent who has struggled to figure out the correct installation of child car seats knows that it’s no simple task. In fact, a new survey from AAA finds that three-quarters of Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technicians observed that parents misuse the LATCH system more than half of the time.

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), which was introduced more than a decade ago (it has been required in nearly all passenger vehicles and car seats since 2002), was intended to simplify car seat installation for parents. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

According to Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, AAA manager of Traffic Safety Advocacy, “It isn’t as simple as we’d hoped it would be. It still requires that you read your vehicle’s owner’s manual and also car seat manufacturer’s instructions.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that 75 percent of parents who have experience installing car seats using LATCH and seat belts prefer the LATCH system. But preference doesn’t guarantee a proper installation. A recent survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that only 13 percent of parent volunteers were able to correctly install a car seat using LATCH.

Car seats - correct installation, AAA

Car seats - correct installation, AAA

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Huebner-Davidson noted that you can still get “a really nice installation” using LATCH, but parents have to make sure they’re using it correctly. “LATCH has its own set of misuses just as installing a car seat with a seat belt does.”

The AAA survey and observations during field car seat checks finds that one of the biggest problems is that parents are putting the car seat in the center seating position when their vehicle doesn’t allow them to use LATCH in that seat.

Only seven of 98 of the top-selling 2010-2011 MY vehicles have LATCH that allow use of it in the center seating position. Two that do: the 2011 Toyota Sequoia SUV (LATCH in the second-row center position) and the 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan (LATCH in the third-row center position). Additionally, in the 2012 Ford Explorer, to cite another example, if the car seat manufacturer’s installation instructions allow use of innermost outboard anchors and the car seat is a certain width, parents can install the car seat using LATCH anchors.

Top 3 Misuses of LATCH

  1. Putting the car seat in the center position of the back seat when the vehicle doesn’t allow it.
  2. Doubling up the systems – trying to install the car seat using the LATCH anchors and also the seat belt, thinking that it’s safer using both systems, when actually it isn’t. “The car seats are not tested that way and we absolutely can’t recommend it,” said Huebner-Davidson. “It could stress the seat. It could put more crash forces on the child. We don’t know exactly what it would do.”
  3. Using incorrect belt path – Here, parents install a convertible seat (a seat that goes rear-facing for infants and toddlers or forward-facing for older children) using the LATCH system, and they forget to use the correct belt path. “We’ll see a car seat that’s rear-facing and the LATCH that’s threaded through the wrong way. It’s using the belt path that’s intended for forward-facing, or vice-versa, when the car seat is forward-facing and they’re using the wrong belt path, one that’s intended for rear-facing,” said Huebner-Davidson.
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