WASHINGTON, DC — (WWJ) A system that’s meant to better protect children in cars is being criticized as being too frustrating for parents, leading to child safety seats that aren’t properly installed.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied the system called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH. It has bottom latches in the fold between the back and bottom of the vehicle seats, and a tether above, and has been in place for over a decade.

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LINK: Vehicles That Are Child Seat Friendly
LINK: IIHS Publication on Child Restraints

“The LATCH system is supposed to be easier to use than the seat belt,” says senior researcher Jessica Jermakian. “But, what we’re finding is that more than a decade later parents are still having trouble using this LATCH system.”

Researchers for the Insurance Institute and the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute looked at 98 vehicles they consider “family friendly” and found that only 21 had latches that were easy to find, and easy to use.

“It shouldn’t take brute force to put a child seat in correctly,” said Jermakian. “Automakers could make these child seats easier to access.”

They also found that too often there weren’t latches in the center rear seat, which is the best place to put a front-facing child seat.

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When researchers asked volunteers to install child seats in a variety of vehicles, only 13 percent did it right the first time.

“Installing a child restraint isn’t always as simple as a couple of clicks and you’re done,” says Anne McCartt, the Institute’s senior vice president for research and one of the report’s authors. “Sometimes parents blame themselves when they struggle with LATCH, but oftentimes the problem lies with the vehicle, not the user.”

The study also found that too often parents don’t even use the top tether.

“With tethers, the main issue is use, not usability,” says Kathy Klinich, assistant research scientist at UMTRI and the study’s lead author. “Many parents don’t realize they are supposed to use the tether.”

Researchers recommend that parents spend more time reading the equipment manual in their vehicle, and that car companies pay more attention to how the latches are installed. While the latches are now required in all new vehicles, researcher Jessica Jermakian says it’s up to individual car companies to decide exactly where to place them.

“The idea is really to provide recommendations for the automakers so they know what things may make a difference when parents try to install child restraints correctly.”

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