Today, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a new study in its latest Status Report regarding LATCH ease-of-use. Although child restraint systems (CRS) installed with LATCH or with a vehicle seat belt are equally safe, LATCH was mandated in motor vehicles beginning with model year 2003 in order to make CRS installation easier. However, research has shown that parents can struggle to correctly install a CRS using LATCH. According to a 2012 survey of Child Passenger Safety Technicians conducted by AAA, nearly three quarters of those surveyed observed parents misusing the LATCH system more than half of the time.
This latest IIHS study examined data from Safe Kids’ car seat checkpoints nationwide from 2010-2012 using University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI)’s previously reported LATCH ease-of-use criteria: easy to find, easy to access, and easy to clip or snap on the child restraint connectors onto vehicle anchors. IIHS researchers determined that when lower anchors in a vehicle met UMTRI’s three installation criteria, the vast majority of parents (80 percent) used lower anchors and 53 percent used them correctly. When the lower anchors did not meet any of the criteria, only 65 percent of parents used them, and only 41 percent of those did so correctly. SUVs and minivans at checkpoints were more likely to meet all three lower anchor installation criteria than cars, and accordingly parents who drove cars were somewhat less likely to use the LATCH lower anchors. Click here to access the full Status Report article on LATCH for more information on IIHS’s findings.
As members of the traffic safety community, we should continue to identify ways to improve the rates of correct CRS installations and minimize misuse. The findings of this study suggest ways that vehicle manufacturers could increase correct installation through improvements to the design of lower anchors for ease-of use. We know that vehicle manufacturers have many factors to consider when designing their products. However, given that 70 percent of rear seat occupants are children and adolescents (many of whom use a CRS), a closer look at the rear seat seems warranted.