Child Passenger Safety: Car Companies Make Strides on LATCH Ease of Use

Traffic Safety Pulse News

CarSeat.jpgNearly three-quarters of 2019 vehicles have LATCH hardware that rates good or acceptable for ease of use, as automakers continue making improvements that help parents and caregivers properly install child restraints. 

The results mark a shift from 2015, when IIHS launched its LATCH ease-of-use ratings. At that time, a majority of new vehicles rated poor or marginal.  

Today, 21 vehicles earn the top rating of good+, 33 are rated good, and 88 rate acceptable. Forty-nine vehicles are marginal, and only four earn a poor rating. Among automakers, Toyota and Subaru are standouts for LATCH ease of use, while U.S. automakers lag behind. Installation in pickups remains tricky, compared with other types of vehicles. 

A properly installed, age-appropriate child restraint can protect a child much better in a crash than a seat belt alone. LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is intended to make child restraint installation easier. Child restraints installed with LATCH are more likely to be put in correctly than restraints installed using the vehicle seat belt, IIHS research has shown. 

But even with LATCH, installation isn’t always simple, and errors are common. The Institute's ratings are based on ease-of-use criteria that have been shown to minimize mistakes. 

“With child restraints, a good, tight installation is critical but can be difficult to achieve,” says Jessica Jermakian, an IIHS senior research engineer. “Thanks to these recent improvements in vehicle LATCH hardware, we expect more children will be riding in correctly installed seats.” 

In the IIHS ratings system, LATCH hardware is considered good if it meets the following criteria: 

  • The lower anchors are no more than ¾ inch deep within the seat bight — the place where the seatback meets the bottom seat cushion — or slightly deeper if there is open access around them. 
  • 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 representing a child seat connector to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds. 
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or in the middle 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.  

To earn a good rating, two LATCH positions in the second row must meet all five criteria, and a third tether anchor must meet both tether criteria. 

The good+ rating is for vehicles that meet the criteria for a good rating and provide additional LATCH-equipped seating positions. For a two-row vehicle, that means having a third good or acceptable LATCH seating position. The third position may use either dedicated anchors or anchors borrowed from other positions. In many vehicles that have lower anchors in the second-row outboard seating positions, LATCH can be used in the center position by “borrowing” one anchor from each side. Some vehicles have one dedicated anchor for the center seat and rely on a borrowed anchor for the other side. 

For a three-row vehicle to earn a good+ rating, it must have one additional good or acceptable LATCH position (without borrowing) and tether anchors in all rear seating positions. The additional tether anchors must meet at least one of the two tether anchor criteria. If the vehicle has a second-row center seating position, it must have good or acceptable LATCH there (with or without borrowing). 

Of all the manufacturers, Subaru and Toyota are tied for the most good+ ratings. Seven of Subaru’s eight vehicles earn the designation. Of the 26 rated vehicles from Toyota and its luxury Lexus brand, seven earn a good+ rating and another seven earn a good rating. Neither Ford nor General Motors have a single model with a good or good+ rating. In Fiat Chrysler’s lineup, one vehicle — the Jeep Cherokee — has a good+ designation. 

No pickups earn a rating higher than acceptable, and 14 out of 20 are rated marginal. The main problem is the tether anchors. Because the rear seat of a pickup is right up against the back wall of the cab, there aren’t many options for where to locate them. In most pickups, the tether must be routed through a loop near the head restraint and then attached to another loop or anchor, typically in an adjacent seating position. 

“When we’ve done studies observing people installing child restraints, we’ve seen that the tether anchors in pickups are a real point of confusion,” Jermakian says. “We’re continuing to work with manufacturers to come up with solutions to this issue.”