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2015 IIHS LATCH Ease-of-Use Ratings – plenty of room for improvement

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2011OdysseySecondRowLATCHIIHS just released a new Ease-of-Use rating for parents to consider before buying a new vehicle: the LATCH ratings for location and use of hardware in vehicles. These ratings for 2015 vehicles—ranging from Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor—measure ease-of-use only and are not considered safety ratings. In their search for ideal access to LATCH, the IIHS researchers only found 3 out of 100 vehicles made their cut for a top rating! The 2015 BMW X5, Mercedes Benz GL-Class, and Volkswagen Passat win for being most LATCH-friendly. Most notably, the Toyota Sienna minivan, built specifically for families, fetched a Poor rating (see rating example pic below).

IIHS latch rating details - sienna

LATCH is a familiar term for parents and caregivers who must deal with child restraints. LATCH_sketchWhat is it? Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren consists of connectors on the carseat that attach to anchors in the vehicle and is an alternative to using the seat belt for installing the carseat. Most carseats have a strap with connectors that either clip or snap onto the connectors, which are found in the vehicle’s seat bight (fancy term for “crack”). The top tether strap is found on convertible and combination carseats. These are carseats that can face forward and the tether secures the top of the carseat to the vehicle; it greatly reduces head excursion, or how far forward your child’s head comes out of the carseat in a crash. Note: the tether is generally only used when the carseat is forward-facing although there are some exceptions. Tethers are awesome for forward-facing kids, and should always be used regardless of whether the carseat is installed with lower anchors or the seat belt!

Graco Argos 80 Elite Tethered Pria 85 tethered in Subaru Britax Blvd CT Tethered

LATCH has been around for a long time: lower anchors were required hardware in vehicles since 2002. Top tethers have been required in vehicles since 2000. Some earlier vehicles have anchors in them because the manufacturers were that good. When it’s available and parents know what it is, LATCH makes installation easier and parents usually get it right. There’s still room for error, but it’s basically click, click pull tight. However, parents have to be able to find the lower anchors and top tethers and be able to easily attach the connectors before they can tighten the straps. If the lower anchors are positioned too deeply in the bight or at an angle where they’re hard to access with certain styles of connectors, this easy system becomes difficult quickly. It’s important to note that LATCH isn’t considered safer than the vehicle seat belt for installation.

rigid LATCH connector

Rigid lower anchor connector

hook on LATCH connector

Basic hook lower anchor connector

non-handed push-on LATCH connector

push-on lower anchor connector

IIHS researchers used tools to measure the depth of the anchors in the vehicle seat bight and the clearance angle. They also measured how far in from the edge of the bight they are found. Top tether anchors were rated on their locations as well. The goal is to have LATCH anchors that are easy to find right away because they’re clearly labeled and easily accessed. Vehicles receive a Good rating if they have the following:

  • The lower anchors are no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat bight.
  • 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 to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds. (The tool represents a lower connector of a child seat, though the actual force required when installing a seat varies depending on the specific connector.)
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or on the top 85 percent 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.

Because these are ease-of-use ratings, the IIHS LATCH ratings are NOT safety ratings and do NOT mean you should stop using LATCH for carseat installation. Your back seat may be differently designed than the 2015 models that they tested and as long as you can get the connectors on the anchors, you’re golden. It’s the battle to get them on that IIHS is measuring, not if they stay there. One thing you do need to remember is that there are weight limits for lower LATCH achors that vary from carseat to carseat.

What Can You Do As A Consumer?

Be *that* customer. Be informed. Ask to read the vehicle owner’s manual—make the salesperson work for their commission. The owner’s manual will tell you exactly how many LATCH locations there are and where the tethers are located (look under Child Restraints or LATCH). It will also give you any special directions for using the top tether. A Marginal or Poor LATCH rating shouldn’t preclude you from purchasing a vehicle because you can always use the seat belt to install a carseat. Sometimes knowing a trick or two, like folding the vehicle seat forward a tad to access the lower anchors, can make things easier. It just shows that you have to take more than leather seats and cup holders into consideration when choosing a new vehicle for your family.

MDX 3rd row tether

3rd row tether anchor in Acura MDX

Kids Left in Cars: What Can We Do?

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Heatstroke_Window_Cling_MeanSun2

As my daughter and I dodged shredded tire treads on the freeway on the way to her oboe lesson, they reminded me that warm weather is here to stay and we should be cognizant of who is in the car at all times. As temps go up outside, they can climb even faster inside and anyone who is vulnerable—child, elderly person, or pet—can succumb to heat stroke in a short amount of time. Even moderate outside temperatures can produce deadly vehicle interior temperatures and cracking a window isn’t enough to air out the car.

When a vehicle is in the sun, it starts to heat up. We’ve all felt this when we’ve sat in a car with the engine off. What happens is the sun shines through the transparent windows and heats the surfaces in the car. The radiation from the sun touches the dashboard, steering wheel, and other solid objects, as well as floating air molecules we can’t see. Conduction works to heat the interior surfaces of the vehicle up quickly and convection moves the air molecules around faster and faster, causing them to heat at a rapid rate. Even leaving the windows down a crack doesn’t help because of the conduction heating the surfaces; the surfaces heat up, which cause the air inside to heat as well. What about a cloudy day where the sun’s rays aren’t shining through the windows? Let me tell you about the worst sunburn I ever got—on a cloudy day. The radiation from the sun still comes through the clouds and can heat that vehicle up.

The SUV in the picture below was left in the sun on a very pleasant morning for about a half hour. During that time, while the outside temperature was 66º, the inside temperature rose to 128º. The vehicle was set up for my Safe Kids coalition’s press conference and rescue demonstration kicking off our Heatstroke Awareness Campaign.

SUV in sun ready for rescue

A child left in the vehicle is at serious risk for heat stroke or death. Heat stroke is when the body’s temperature rises above 104º. A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult’s and symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot, moist or dry skin, lack of sweating (their bodies have reached a point where they can’t cool down on their own anymore), headache, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. When a child’s body reaches 107º, their organs will shut down and death most likely will occur.

As much as we try to educate parents not to leave their children in vehicles, last year there were 30 children who died left in vehicles. Some of these deaths were accidental and some were intentional. It’s the accidental deaths where we can make an impact by making a few changes in our habits. But habits are hard to change and we have to be intentional in changing them. Can you imagine being this guy, who accidentally left his sleeping child in his SUV at the train station parking lot and remembered her when he got into the city? That had to have been the longest train ride back out to get her.

Time and again, a break in routine has been the reason a child has been left behind in a vehicle. The parent with the child is doing something out of the ordinary and forgets that the child is in the car or a daycare provider is overwhelmed with the number of children in the van and forgets the quiet one. From 1998-2014, 53% of children who died from heatstroke in vehicles were forgotten about by their caregivers. During that same time period, 29% were children who accidentally locked themselves in a vehicle while playing, and adults intentionally left 17% in the vehicle.

How can we address this problem and prevent it from happening again? First, we can stop blaming the victims and recognize everyone has the potential to forget their child. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem at some point for everyone who has a child and it can make your brain act in ways it normally wouldn’t. Laws may help dissuade caregivers who casually leave their children in vehicles as they run errands or get manicures, but they aren’t going to make a difference for those who forget their children. If you forget a child, you’re not going to remember them because of the threat of going to jail. Nineteen states have laws regarding unattended children in vehicles. Second, let’s be proactive, both as parents driving our children and as community members. Look in the car next to you as you get out to make sure a child, pet, or elderly person wasn’t left behind. Look in your business parking lots on broiling hot days AND teeth-chattering cold days. Safe Kids Worldwide gives us this handy acronym to help us remember to ACT to save lives:

A: Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child alone in a car and by locking your vehicle so a child can’t get trapped inside accidentally.

C: Create reminders for yourself by putting your cellphone or wallet in the back seat next to the carseat. Also have your daycare provider call you and your significant other when the child is late or absent from daycare.

T: Take action if you see a child alone in a vehicle. This is an emergency and emergency personnel want you to call 911. Be cautious about breaking a vehicle window because you or someone else could be injured.

wheresbaby4

 

Thanks to Jan Null, CCM, San Jose State University for providing data and studying this topic for so many years!

Happy Memorial Day

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Memorial Day Meme