The Checkout

New Rules on Child Safety Seats By Year's End

Something good may yet come of the controversy sparked by Consumer Reports' retraction of its recent child safety seat report.

As you might recall, Consumer Reports made a splash when it said 10 popular brands of infant car seats failed in crash tests done at speeds and in directions identical to the ones used for vehicle crash tests. Vehicles are tested at 35 mph for frontal impact and 38 mph for side impact. Child safety seats, by contrast, are tested only in front-impact crashes at 30 mph.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, however, uncovered a major flaw in Consumer Reports' side-impact crash test, prompting the magazine to retract the report last month -- generating perhaps an even bigger media frenzy. Consumer Reports is in the middle of retesting the seats at the intended speed and will release those results when they are ready.

The retraction was embarrassing for the magazine, but the added media attention on safety standards may yet succeed in getting regulators to introduce side-impact crash tests for car seats. At a child safety summit called by NHTSA last week, agency officials said they would issue new rules on child safety seats by the end of the year.

Side-impact crast tests are by no means a done deal. According to Consumeraffairs.com, federal regulators "have not decided whether to even require side-impact crash tests for child safety seats."
NHTSA administrator Nicole Nason would only say those tests remain "under consideration."

If not side-impact crash tests, what other child safety seat issue might NHTSA take on? Well, there is the lingering problem with the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children or LATCH system. As the name suggests, it's a system of tethers and latches used to attach a car seat to the inside of a vehicle that has been required in new cars and child safety seats since 2002. The idea was to make it easier to install a car seat. But about 40 percent of parents are still using seat belts instead of LATCH partly because they don't understand how to work the dang thing, according to a December NHTSA report.

NHTSA hopes to remedy this confusion with an education campaign on proper installation of car seats and by improving its "Ease of Use" rating system for car seats. Whether the agency will go as far as some safety advocates would like and change them to resemble crash test ratings issued for passenger cars remains to be seen. But there's certainly room for improvement. We'll keep you posted on what NHTSA decides to do.

For those of you who just bought or were in the process of buying a car seat during the past month, how have you decided what car seat to use and how to install it (seat belts v. LATCH)?


By Annys Shin |  February 13, 2007; 9:31 AM ET Consumer News
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Comments

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Good god, you clip it to the metal things sticking out where the bottom seat meets the seat back. Tighten. Take top strap, clip whichever way you child is facing. Clear?

Posted by: Can't figure it out!!!! | February 13, 2007 10:04 AM

If you can't install LATCH, you aren't competent to drive. It's no harder than buckling a seatbelt. How are these people assembling cribs safely if they can't clip a car seat to two metal latches?

We use LATCH in our newer truck and the seatbelt in our older car, which doesn't have LATCH.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 13, 2007 10:19 AM

I am as flabbergasted as the other commenter that anyone could find the LATCH system difficult. I guarantee that at least half of the people that continue to use seat belts are doing it wrong and putting their children at serious risk of injury.

Posted by: Nick | February 13, 2007 10:23 AM

I agree that installing with latch is easy, though when installing an infant car seat pretty recently it was more difficult to make sure the seat was at the proper angle. My confusion lies in whether latch or a seatbelt is the safer option, and I keep hearing conflicting opinions. Do you go with latch because your car has it and it is easy, or with the seatbelt because you hear it is safer?

Posted by: newmama | February 13, 2007 10:30 AM

I just bought a car seta and I bought the one of the ones that passes the Consumer Report test. Flawed test or not...clearly, the two the passed seemed to be better than the others.

Posted by: arlington | February 13, 2007 10:32 AM

"competent to drive"? If you can't install a LATCH, you probably should not be adding kids to the population!

Posted by: Anonymous | February 13, 2007 10:41 AM

Just use the LATCH anchors and the seat belt at the same time. It's not like you are moving the car seat (or the base, in the case of an infant car seat) in and out that often, so the extra work is minimal.

Posted by: TakPk | February 13, 2007 10:59 AM

WHAT? It is a car seat. You fasten it in and tighten the belt, or you clip it in. The more abuse it can withstand in a crash test, the better. This is not rocket science. Then again, most people seem more concerned with ANS than Iraq.
On a side note, I wonder if they play Let the Boddies Hit the Floor when they do their tests on the little cheap cars and seats...

Posted by: Chris | February 13, 2007 11:33 AM

I agree with arlington, we're planning on buying 1 that consumer reports initially said passed, because of the report. I don't know about you, but if you're going to have a crash, it will probably be at a higher speed. The government should require higher standards in the first place....

Posted by: anon | February 13, 2007 11:44 AM

LATCH is much easier to install than playing with seat belts. I, too, don't understand how can someone find it confusing. I have only one child and most of the time his car seat is installed in the middle of the back seat to minimize the risk from side-imact crash.

Posted by: Elle | February 13, 2007 11:45 AM

I had to have my brother in law install my son's seat using the LATCH system - it took him about an hour. I won't even try to take the seat out.

They need to mandate a standard latch system for all cars and make it easier to install.

Posted by: DMU | February 13, 2007 11:46 AM

I had to have my brother in law install my son's seat using the LATCH system - it took him about an hour. I won't even try to take the seat out.

They need to mandate a standard latch system for all cars and make it easier to install.

Posted by: Dawn | February 13, 2007 11:47 AM

I believe some of the previous comments are a little harsh on todays parents. I believe there should be more programs or car seat check days, to help parents and children understand the correct way to position child safety seats.

Posted by: Katie | February 13, 2007 12:07 PM

People get all worked up about whether the seat is in right because we are constantly told that 80, 90, 98% of seats are "installed incorrectly." These announcements usually follow news reports of unbelted kids going through a car window.

Our seats are installed following the directions and are belted as tightly as I can get it by hand.

I am not going to lose sleep worrying whether a 250 lb state trooper at the car seat check station could wiggle the thing an extra quarter of an inch and tell me I'm a bad mom because my seats are "in wrong." They should go after the people driving around with a baby on someone's lap in a pickup truck.

Posted by: di | February 13, 2007 12:09 PM

We decided to hook our infant's car seat up to both the LATCH and seat belt--a little added stability. The argument between LATCH or seat belt is easily settled by just using both. Understandably, we do not move the base out of the car at all--but for those who do, I suggest paying the additional $40 for an extra car seat base and having a base in each car your child rides in--this will save you time in the long run.

Posted by: Matthew | February 13, 2007 12:55 PM

I'm pretty sure it is not safe to use both the latch and the seat belt at the same time.

And - if you feel like a bad mom when the trooper says the seat could be a little tighter than you are a freak. Did you go to have them check it out so that they could tell you that you had installed it correctly? The whole point of the car seat check is so that they can install it correctly for you.

What we need to do is demand that our city governments spend more money on the car seat programs. In City of Alexandria, it is run on a volunteer basis by a few of our cops - and mainly donations. The city won't/can't allocate money to this very worthy cause.

I had a hispanic couple with an infant that came to my yard sale once that had the baby front facing, in a car seat that had had it's straps cut by whomever tossed it. They had (poorly) reattached the straps, but they were all messed up so that he didn't have anything over his shoulders. It was terrible. Hospitals should have a ready supply of seats to pass out to people who are indigent.

Posted by: gs | February 13, 2007 1:14 PM

LATCH is too hard to use? Once again the results of a broken education system come to the forefront. Unfortunately the same people who can't figure out how to attached three clips are the same people blasting down the road in 5000 lbs of metal.

Darwin would look at these people and re-think his evolution theory. Maybe it is a de-evolution phase that we are in now.

Personally, I use both. I put two seat in my wifes van - both with LATCH and seatbelt attached. Done in less than ten minutes. One seat rear-facing for my newborn grandson and another forward-facing infant seat for my grandaughter. One thing that makes it easier is when I put my full weight in the seat to tighten the belts. Both seats are rock solid and don't wiggle a bit.

The only thing that needs adjusting is their harnesses - the little ones are growing like weeds.

Posted by: SoMD | February 13, 2007 1:16 PM

I just purchased a new car with the intention of using the latch system, but learned through my research that you can't use LATCH in the center back seat of almost all cars because of spacing issues. I have heard that the center back seat is the safest position to install a car seat in. Any opinions on whether it is safest to use the LATCH system on the outer seat or the seatbelt on the middle seat?

Posted by: dc | February 13, 2007 1:28 PM

I recently bought a Britax Roundabout convertible car seat partially because it's supposed to be easy to install. I originally was using LATCH for my Graco SnugRide infant car seat until I learned that my car, like most cars, don't have LATCH anchors for the middle seat. I learned this information from the Consumer Reports article and then reread my car's owner's manual to double check. So, thanks Consumer Reports! I decided to keep the seat in the middle and use the seatbelt. It was more difficult to install using the seatbelt than LATCH.

BTW, Prince George's County doesn't make it easy to get the police to check your installation.

Posted by: Leslie | February 13, 2007 1:42 PM

I was told by a NHTSA certified car seat technician that using both the seatbelt and the LATCH system is not safe. I hope that those of you doing so will have your seat installation checked at one of the local inspection stations. You can find a list of inspection sites, many of which take appointments, at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/childps/CPSFittingStations/CPSinspection.htm

Finally, just to jump on the bandwagon, I cannot imagine anyone who can't figure out the LATCH system. While it's possible one may not have the physical strength/weight to get a safe fit, the mechanism itself is ridiculously easy.

Posted by: 2terrificboys | February 13, 2007 1:52 PM

LATCH is easy, but why is it that it's rarely, if ever, installed in the middle seat position??? The middle seat is, of course, where it's recommended you install your child safety seat...

I'm concerned about several of the previous posters comments though. LATCH and seatbelts are NOT supposed to be used together -- it's an either/or situation.

Posted by: dcblues | February 13, 2007 2:16 PM

2terrificboys:

I just left the NHTSA web page and there is absolutely nothing there about the safety of using the LATCH system and seatbelts together.

However, the Consummer Reports testing (the test that have been withdrawn because they were perfomed at 70MPH instead of 35MPH) showed that all brands of seats performed better using both the LATCH system and seatbelts. In fact, the LATCH seats without seatbelts broke away completely at that speed - anybody who says that 70 MPH is unrealistic does not use the beltway or I95.

So, I will continue to use both until the NHTSA posts their test results on their web page for all of us to see.

Even "Certified" technicians get it wrong.

Posted by: SoMD | February 13, 2007 2:29 PM

You cannot ever use both!
Consumer Reports never tested with BOTH. They tested with either/or.

The reason you cannot use both is a) the belts are designed to stretch, to limit the force on the child and the seat. If BOTH belts are attached, they cannot stretch AS THEY WERE DESIGNED TO DO. By having it RIGID, you're transferring force AWAY from the vehicle and TO your child. This has been tested, and failed.
b) It puts far more stress on the belt and LATCH anchors, more than they are designed to support.
C) it puts too much stress on the seat, which is PLASTIC. It is plastic because it is designed to move and flex in a crash.

A CORRECTLY installed seat will still move up to a foot or more in a crash, because the belts DO stretch. They are supposed to. If they can't, it's unsafe.

The reason you cannot use the outboard anchors for a center seat install is because they are not reinfornced to absorb fores from that angle and from only half of the frame. Each set of (2) lower anchors is attached. So both driver's side anchors are attached to each other, and both passenger side anchors are attached to each other. Like this

n_____n n______n

Using those middle ones provides NO structural support in a crash.

The reason that most cars don't have them in the middle if two fold. Number one- in order to have them, ALL of them must be tested together. So you must test all three sets together, and have them not fail. That puts a tremendous strain on the vehicle attachments. Number two- they are required to be eleven inches apart. Most back seats are not big enough to put three full sets in.

PLEASE visit a certified tech, and NEVER use the belt and LATCH together. You're putting your child in a lot of danger that way. One or the other is very safe, but in this case less DOES equal more. You're being very unsafe by using both.

Posted by: Estelle | February 13, 2007 3:43 PM

I agree any idiot should be able to install the LATCH seat. I just wish there were regulations on car makers to have LATCH for the middle seat as well. Our car does not have LATCH for the middle seats and it's a 2004.

Posted by: {test} | February 13, 2007 3:50 PM

I use LATCH. It's struck me as far easier to get right, or nearly close to right, compared to seatbelts. With seatbelts I'm worried they'll loosen or twist, and lost the benefit. I'm quite certain that's not happening with LATCH.

I can't see how hard it is to figure out. But I admit it's a bit hard to reach the loops in some cars, and to clip the clips on some models of carseat (the Britax as a lot easier than the Graco.)

Posted by: ah | February 13, 2007 3:53 PM

Estelle- thanks for the very accurate description of why LATCH can not be used in the center seat of most cars. I understand that the only cars that do have LATCH in the center are some larger cars where there is enough space. I don't believe that car manufactures have plans to make LATCH available for the center seat, because of the testing issues you mentioned. Of course, many new cars have the upper tethers available for the center seat, but those can not be used for a rear facing infant seat. For the time being, I think I will have an infant car seat properly installed and inspected in the center seat, instead of using LATCH in an outer seat position.

Posted by: dc | February 13, 2007 4:36 PM

For all of you with snotty comments about how you are an idiot if you can't use LATCH-- I tell you that a humbling might be in your future. I live in Oregon and we have a lovely children's store that sends its employees to be specially trained in installing carseats. We take our cars there to have the carseats installed (2 cars, different seats, kids grow, etc...) What they tell me is that it is a combination of the carseat and the car that determines what is the best method.
We bought a Honda CRV after my daughter was born and we bought a Britax carseat. We made safety the numeber one priortity in both purchases. Ironically it turns out you can't do a good job installing these two together with the carseat in the middle so we had to install it on the side which we know isn't as safe.
They installers have told me several times that in some cars, with some carseats, they think the belts are a better system. Also, those guys are strong and they pull way harder on the straps than I ever could. They emphasize that tight is important.

Posted by: ml | February 13, 2007 5:52 PM

LATCH! This was the best thing for car seats. I have three children and putting car seats in with a sear belt correctly was very difficult. The LATCH system is much easier. The last comment I read discussed going to some type of service provider to see the best way to install seats. I think that is great.

Posted by: Seth | February 13, 2007 6:50 PM

I have two carseats and brought them to my local police to install, which they did at no cost. No way was I going to risk doing it myself, no matter how "easy" it's supposed to be.

Posted by: StudentMom | February 13, 2007 7:43 PM

Putting a LATCH system in a middle seat is either easy or I have been fortunate enough to come across four different cars (domestic and foreign) where it works. The key is to loosen the bottom strap more than enough to make it easy to hook to the central LATCH loops for each side locations. Then, to tighten it SIT IN THE SEAT YOURSELF (presuming you fit). Your weight depresses the seat, you pull on the strap to tighten, and presto, tight, safe seat. And, for those who say the system is not designed for it, I suspect the force required to snap a loop is more than sufficient to flatten your vehicle--and, more important, which is more likely: Picking the "wrong" side in the event of an accident (my personal nightmare impelling central seating) or getting into an accident so severe that it would snap a LATCH loop but your child would have been safe if you had picked the "right" side of the car for that accident?

Posted by: Middle seater | February 13, 2007 9:07 PM

While I appreciate Estelle's detailed explanation of why not to use seat belts and LATCH together, it seems to assume that neither system is going to fail. Does her explanation still apply if either system fails, as Consumer Reports apparently found they do, much more often than we thought, at high speeds? It makes more sense to me that if, say, the seat belts failed, the LATCH system could act as back-up, and vice versa. Maybe it depends on how fast you are going. I wish this were all worked out, since this is pretty important.

Posted by: TakPk | February 14, 2007 12:06 PM

Ok everyone, I'm a certified instructor in the national child passenger safety course that has been mentioned. It is against manufacturer's instructions to use both the LATCH and seat belt - why - because they are not crash-tested for this. The governing rule is to always go by the manufacturer's manuals. If your vehicle and car seat owner's manuals do not allow you to "create" a center LATCH position - you cannot do it yourself.
Our state law actually states that all safety seats must be used according to the manufacturer's instructions. We must follow their manuals - they are not "guidelines" - but the instructions that have been written to ensure correct and proper use.
There are a few car seats that can be top-tethered in the rear-facing mode. Again - follow the manuals to determine how to use each seat.
Another thing, certified technicians should be teaching parents how to install their seats - not being just an installation service. Our goal is to teach and empower parents - you do not have to be a 250 pound man to install a safety seat properly. It's more about technique - I've had plenty of smaller statured parents and teenagers who have learned how to install the seats.
Bottom line - read and follow the manuals for both the vehicle and the safety seat. Seek help from a certified technician/instructor if need be:
www.seatcheck.org

Posted by: bw | February 14, 2007 1:34 PM

LATCH, and Britax... extremely simple to install, check, and adjust. The ability to adjust the straps without taking the seat apart is wonderful too!

The key to it all is reading the manuals, reviews, etc. Unfortunately that's not something that everyone does. Last spring I had to tell my sister in law that the car seat she'd registered for was a piece of junk. She'd picked it on looks and the guidance of the guy working in the big box baby store who more or less told her that all car seats had to pass safety standards and were the same.

Then she had no idea about LATCH. (What she thought those straps were dangling off the bottom of the seat were for, we have no idea.) Pretty scary since we think it means she didn't read the manual, just the side of the seat and this was after she'd had the baby!

This is someone with an advanced degree, and still completely ignorant.

Posted by: another mom | February 14, 2007 3:37 PM

If people would RTM installing these seats would not be difficult. Before you start to install, sit down with the owners manual for your car and the instructions that came with the seat and READ THEM! Once you do that, you will understand where the anchor points are and how to attach to them.

When my wife and I decided to purchase our last vehicle, a Chevy Uplander, one of the things we did when we were checking it out was install the car seat and try it out. The sales person was astounded that we actually wanted to do that. He said we were the first to ever do so that he had seen.

Posted by: Troy | February 15, 2007 11:21 AM

As a Certified Sit-Safe installer, I've seen hundreds of child seats, and almost all could be better.

Di, take the extra time and get a FREE install check and training. If you can improve the fit by even 1%, don't you think it's worth it?

Matthew, the seats are not tested with the belt and LATCH installed together. Using both might change the way the CRS holds up during stress (crashes). LATCH is enough, and so is a seatbelt when done correctly.

Posted by: ChildSeatInstaller | February 16, 2007 1:57 AM

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