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2016 IIHS LATCH Ease-of-Use Ratings Released

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IIHS Reports Vehicle Manufacturers Respond, Make Improvements in LATCH Hardware

tsxwagonlatchFor the 2nd year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released their LATCH Ease-of-Use ratings for parents who are contemplating purchasing a new vehicle. Most parents look at safety features, such as airbags, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and so on, without realizing that being able to install their carseats easily is also a safety feature. When Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren was introduced in 2002, it was hailed as the panacea for poorly installed child seats; instead, it’s brought confusion, frustration, and ultimately carseat manufacturers who try to discourage its use. So why should you care about LATCH ease-of-use when buying a car?

When we as technicians teach parents how to install their carseats, we always go for the easiest method first and that usually is LATCH, especially for rear-facing carseats. If the lower anchors that the LATCH connectors attach to on the vehicle are difficult to find for technicians, parents are likely to be doubly frustrated. Most of the time we can finagle the LATCH connectors onto the anchor, but what if you have rigid LATCH, which is becoming more popular? Rigid LATCH is supposed to be an insanely easy install where you simply push it onto the lower anchors, but if you can’t access the anchors because they’re so buried in the vehicle seat bight (crack) or blocked by stiff leather, you’re not getting some of that ease of installation for which you paid. I still get sympathetic Braxton Hicks contractions when some of my more stubborn pregnant mamas try to dig around and find their lower anchors.

Last year, the IIHS found that only 3 of 102 vehicles passed their criteria for a good rating with more than half being poor or marginal. This year, however, vehicle manufacturers paid attention and 3 models, the 2017 Audi Q7, the 2016 Lexus RX, and the 2016 Toyota Prius, received the top rating of Good+ and most of the 170 vehicles rated good or acceptable. It’s notable that there aren’t any minivans, considered to be top young family haulers, in the Good or Good+ categories. One heavily advertised minivan, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica manufactured after August 2016 received a Marginal score whereas models manufactured before September 2016 received a Poor score.

toyota_iihs_latch_02_e15ebb531d38a929d24f9807c5303865ed7ac729_lowHere are side-by-side comparisons of the Toyota Prius model years 2015 and 2016. Toyota improved access by adding a flap of fabric to the vehicle seat bight (previously seen on the Sienna) so the lower anchors can be easily seen when the flap is lifted and can be borrowed in the center seating position, which is new for Toyota (though problematic since the LATCH strap would cover the driver’s side seat buckle). The top tether anchors are easy to find.

2015-toyota-prius-latch-rating 2016-toyota-prius-latch-rating

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.

A Good+ rating is achieved if a vehicle also provides another LATCH-equipped seating position with a good or acceptable LATCH rating.

What does this mean if your perfect vehicle has a less than perfect LATCH ease-of-use rating? It means you now know that installing a carseat using the lower anchors and/or top tether may be more difficult. Since IIHS gives you an explanation of why each seating position has its difficulties, you are armed with information, which is powerful—the more you know, right? Remember, you don’t *have* to install your carseat with the lower anchors and in fact, at some point with a convertible and combination carseat, you will have to switch to the vehicle seat belt because of weight limits (see your carseat and vehicle instruction manuals and labels).

2016 Infant Carseat Safety Ratings from Consumer Reports – 17 new models evaluated

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The Safest Infant Carseats:  Best, Better or Basic?  How do infant seats compare?

Today, Consumer Reports released their second round of infant carseat ratings using their new test methodology for evaluating infant child safety seats. We feel these ratings are likely to be a big step forward and should help parents to compare the crash safety of carseats. In the long term, just like the 5-star rating system from NHTSA and the IIHS Top Safety Pick ratings for automobiles, more rigorous testing often leads to better product designs in the future.

Why did Consumer Reports create their own crash test for child restraints?

Consumer Reports wanted to provide consumers with comparative information on carseats. By developing their own crash test, the goal was to determine which carseats offered an extra margin of safety in certain crash conditions simulated by the new tests. We know all carseats sold in the U.S. should meet federal safety standards but we also know all carseats aren’t the same. The goal here was to determine which seats could hold up well even under tougher crash test conditions that were also more “real world” than the current tests.

How is this test different from the government’s FMVSS 213 crash test?  

The Consumer Reports crash test was developed to be more rigorous than the current federal safety standards. They also designed the test with more real world vehicle conditions in mind. This new test is performed at an independent, outside testing facility. It uses a contemporary vehicle seat with a lap/shoulder seatbelt and a floor below it, unlike the government’s FMVSS 213 crash test which has a 70’s era back seat test bench with lap-only seatbelts and no floor. There is also a “blocker plate” installed in front of the test seat to simulate the interaction that occurs between the carseat and the front seat in a real crash. This is important because in the real world we know children are often injured when they come into contact with the back of the front seat during a crash. Consumer Reports also chose to run their tests at 35 mph; the government’s crash test is 30 mph.

Consumer Reports - test buck

What is the rating scale?

The crash protection ratings will indicate a “BASIC,” “BETTER,” or “BEST” score for crash protection. The rating is based on a combination of injury measures. While we don’t know exactly where they drew the line between best and better, we do know that seats receiving a “best” rating for crash protection performed statistically better than other peer models for crash performance.

A seat can be downgraded to a “basic” rating if there are repeatable structural integrity issues or if the dummy records injury measures that are considerably higher than the other peer models tested. Seats with a “basic” rating are still considered safe to use because they do meet all the safety standards in FMVSS 213. Please try to keep in mind that these are VERY challenging new tests and there will always be some designs that outperform others.

CR also gives each seat a separate overall numeric score which is based on its crash protection rating and other factors like ease of installation with seatbelt or lower LATCH anchors and ease of use. Seats with high overall scores will have a “better” or “best” crash protection rating plus they are considered easy to install properly and easy to use correctly.

Below we have listed the crash protection rating for the infant seats that received either a “Best” or a “Basic” rating for crash protection.  If you want to see the full ratings for all the seats they tested, which include 22 additional models in the “Better” rating category (plus all the overall numeric scores and comments), they are available only to subscribers. An annual online subscription to ConsumerReports.org is $26.

Infant Carseat Ratings

keyfitsurgeNot surprisingly, their top overall performers (combination of crash protection plus ease of installation and ease of use) are the Chicco KeyFit & Chicco KeyFit 30 models, which are also on our list of Recommended Carseats.

NUNA PIPA + BASE WITH LOAD LEGWe note that the Asana 35 DLX (our review of the Asana is coming very soon), Cybex Aton 2, Cybex Aton Q, & Nuna Pipa were all tested using their load leg feature. Thanks to the load leg, these seats were all top performers in crash protection. Unfortunately, a load leg cannot be used on the government’s FMVSS 213 crash test sled, as that sled does not have a floor. 

Below is a table of the infant carseat models which received a “Best” rating for crash protection, as well as those that only received a “Basic” rating. 

Britax Raises the Safety Bar with New Boulevard and Advocate with Anti-Rebound Bar

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On the eve of baby safety month, one of the big names in car seats has one again raised the bar for child passenger safety.

Britax, who has long been known and trusted by parents for their high quality car seats, is releasing new Advocate and Boulevard Clicktight convertible seats, now with an Anti-Rebound Bar (ARB) for rear facing children. The Anti-Rebound Bar is a steel bar with external padding that attaches to the end of the seat nearest the child’s feet to help improve performance in a crash.

boulevard

When a rear facing car seat is in a crash, it will often first move backwards, that is, towards the front of the vehicle, and then rebound back toward the seat it is installed in. For years companies have been trying to find a way to manage that rebound motion and for a while, it seemed that rear facing tethering was the direction companies were moving. But as vehicle incompatibility has become an issue, companies have had to look in other directions. It seems that the ARB is the up and coming strategy to manage this rebound motion.

Britax released a statement this week reporting that during testing, using both US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS), the ARB was found to reduce the rebound rotation when rear facing in a crash by 40%, potentially providing a huge safety benefit to rear facing children. The ARB also improved stability to the car seat in frontal, rear-end and side-impact crashes. Since many parents express apprehensive about big kids rear facing in rear-end collisions, this news should also help allay some of those fears.

advocate

The Anti-Rebound Bar is currently being sold as an accessory for $39.99 for all ClickTight convertibles, but it will be available in select Advocate Clicktight ARB ($469.99) and Boulevard ClickTight ARB ($409.99) models starting in early September 2016. In store retailers will carry the Boulevard Clicktight ARB in the Solstice fashion (gray/black- the top picture), where online retailers will carry the ARB versions in the Circa fashion (black- the bottom picture). Look for a full review in the coming weeks, just as soon as we’ve had a chance to try out the Advocate and/or Boulevard ClickTight with Anti-Rebound Bar ourselves.

arb

For more information about Britax, visit us.britax.com and watch for a variety of activities during child passenger safety week, September 18-24.

Clek Foonf & Fllo Cover Flame-Retardant Notification

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fllo-flamingoClek has issued a notice regarding the covers of certain 2014* model year Foonf and Fllo car seats.  They were described as not containing chlorinated flame retardants, but may contain the chemicals. This is NOT a recall, it is a customer satisfaction campaign.  There is no safety issue involved and these products remain fully appropriate for their intended use in the vehicle.  Clek is alerting impacted consumers that their seats were described incorrectly, and the company will provide replacement covers that do not contain chlorinated chemicals.

This notification is for certain Clek Foonf and Clek Fllo seats. You can check to see if your seat is impacted by first identifying the style of your Clek Foonf or Fllo seat. Styles possibly impacted are:

  • 2014 model year Foonf seats with Flamingo, Snowberry, Tank, Dragonfly, Ink, Blue Moon, Shadow, or Tokidoki (Rebel, All-Over, Travel) colors, and 
  • Fllo model seats with the Flamingo color manufactured in 2014.

If you have one of these seats, remove the fabric from the cushion of the seat and look for the 10-digit code (e.g. 104576D-FMO). If the digit immediately following the dash is a C or D, your cover may have been incorrectly described and may contain chlorinated flame retardants. If the digit is E or F, your seat was properly described and is not impacted.  Please see Clek’s updated notice to see if your 2014 model year Foonf or Fllo is affected.

*Please note that some 2014 model year seats have a manufacturing date in late 2013 and these were most likely to be affected.

You can also visually check the padding sewn to the bottom of the seat pad. Impacted seats (like the one pictured below) have a foam material that is not sewn to the cover at the hole for the crotch buckle.

2013 clek cover

Seats that were properly described (and therefore aren’t impacted) contain a woven fibrous material that feels like cotton batten. This fabric might or might not be sewn to the holes around the crotch buckle holes, depending on when it was manufactured. Seats that are not impacted look like this.

2015 clek cover 2014 clek cover

If you have an impacted seat, you can call or email Clek’s customer service at 1-866-656-2462 or customerservice@clekinc. If you have registered your seat and it is one of the impacted models, Clek will automatically send a replacement cover.

Because this is NOT a safety recall, consumers can continue using their seats as usual.

Remember that all seats need to meet federal flammability standards, and currently that standard can’t be met without the use of flame-retardant chemicals. Some companies have moved away from (or never used) certain types of chemicals, like chlorinated or brominated flame retardants, instead opting for chemicals considered “safer.” Chlorinated flame retardants can be used in car seats, but the issue with these Clek seats is that they were described as not containing the chlorinated chemicals when they may actually contain them.

We have written before about flame-retardant chemicals and why they concern some consumers:

Flame Retardants Got You Hot?

Should You Toss Your Toxic Car Seat?