A federal highway bill that passed Congress last month could improve the safety of children in child-safety seats during a side-impact crash — and make it easier for parents to install those child seats.
The bill calls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require automakers to improve access to Latch anchors, improve side-impact protection for kids in child seats and research technology that alerts parents to children left behind in the backseat. Expect final legislation on side-impact improvements for child seats within two years and Latch-anchor advancements within three years.
How will NHTSA improve Latch access? A spokesman revealed little, saying only that the agency was “in the process” of responding. But the improvements are overdue. The Latch system originated in the late 1990s to make child seats easier to install than with seat belts, but a lot of people still secure their car seats with belts, which safety advocate Joseph Colella said runs the risk of incompatibility issues.
“The intent was to make it so that car seats had a simple, universal way of installing them, and you didn’t have to figure out the seat belt system, you didn’t have to worry about seat belts designed for adult safety instead of child safety,” said Colella, who heads up Traffic Safety Projects near Washington, D.C., and sat on the panel that recommended the Latch system in 1995.
“A seat belt forward of the bight — or the crack in the vehicle seat — it can’t hold a car seat back,” he said. “If it’s anchored in front of the seat belt’s belt path, you can’t make the car seat [fit] tight.”
What’s more, certain belt technology can’t support child seats. Some automakers warn that inflatable seat belts won’t hold them, for example. Put it all together and Colella noted that less than half of parents with car seats use Latch properly. You can’t blame them. A study published last April by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found just 21 of the top 98 best-selling cars had easy-to-use Latch anchors.