IIHS Reports Vehicle Manufacturers Respond, Make Improvements in LATCH Hardware
For 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.
Here 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.
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).