Rear Seats Impede Child Safety in Many Cars

By Matthew de Paula

Automakers need to rethink seat designs for child safety.

Anchors that secure child restraints are too difficult to reach in many vehicles and make installation unnecessarily complicated, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The IIHS released a new study it conducted with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute that found only 21 out of nearly 100 vehicles researchers looked at had rear seat designs that help parents use the Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children (LATCH) correctly. A common problem in many cars is that the rear-seat belt buckles obscure the anchor points. In some vehicles, they are so buried in the seat as to not be visible.

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Is your rear seat child-safe?Is your rear seat child-safe?

"Many parents see the tethers as optional, but they're key to getting the best protection out of a child restraint," says Anne McCartt, senior vice president of research at the IIHS. The video below shows how a child in an an improperly tethered seat can get injured by smashing into the front seat. Using the upper tether that goes over the top of the seat back, in addition to the lower tethers, is critical.

"Sometimes parents blame themselves when they struggle with a child restraint, but we found that the problem is often with the vehicle, not the parent," McCartt says. "Automakers could do a lot to make it easier."

Researchers identified three factors associated with correct child-seat anchor use: depth, clearance and force. The anchors should be no more than 3/4 of an inch below the surface of the seat cushion; they should be free from obstructions like safety belt buckles, foam or fabric, and have good clearance to hook in tethers from various angles; and they shouldn't require the use of too much force to hook in the tethers. Vehicles meeting the criteria were 19 times as likely to have lower anchors used correctly than those that didn't meet the criteria.

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Here are the 2011 models that meet the criteria:

  • Audi A4 Quattro
  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Chevrolet Equinox LT
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab
  • Chevrolet Suburban LT
  • Chevrolet Tahoe LS
  • Chrysler Town & Country (2010)
  • Dodge Caliber Mainstreet
  • Dodge Grand Caravan Crew
  • Dodge Ram 1500 crew cab
  • Ford Escape XLT
  • Ford F-150 SuperCrew Cab
  • GMC Sierra 1500 crew cab SLE
  • Honda Pilot EX-L
  • Kia Sedona LX
  • Land Rover Range Rover Sport
  • Mercedes-Benz C300
  • Mercedes-Benz E350
  • Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe GS
  • Mitsubishi Lancer ES
  • Toyota Tacoma extended cab

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Does your vehicle meet the criteria?Does your vehicle meet the criteria?

Here are the 2011 models that don't meet any of the criteria:

  • Buick Enclave CX
  • Chevrolet Impala LT
  • Dodge Avenger Express
  • Ford Flex SEL
  • Ford Taurus Limited
  • Hyundai Sonata Limited
  • Toyota Sienna XLE

Only seven of the 98 vehicles tested had dedicated LATCH anchors in the center, second-row seat, which the IIHS says is the safest place for children to travel.

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