IIHS Finds LATCH Restraint System Difficult to Use in Most Vehicles

IIHS Finds LATCH Restraint System Difficult to Use in Most Vehicles
Image: IIHS
June 19, 2015

Only three vehicles of more than 100 evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have child restraint installation hardware that earns a good rating for ease of use, while more than half have hardware that is poor or marginal.

The BMW 5 series, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and the Volkswagen Passat came out on top, while 44 models were rated as acceptable, 45 as marginal, and 10 as poor. The LATCH ratings are intended to serve as a resource for families who are looking for a vehicle that makes it easy to transport their children safely and encourage manufactures to pay attention to this equipment.

The Institute is careful to note that the LATCH ratings are only for ease of installation and that LATCH systems in all models provide equal protection if they are installed correctly.

LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is intended to make it easier to install a child seat properly. Research has shown that child restraints installed with LATCH are more likely than those with seatbelts to be installed correctly.

While the LATCH system itself works, the LATCH hardware in many vehicles could be better, says the IIHS.

LATCH has been required in vehicles and on child restraints since 2002. In a vehicle, the lower anchors are located where the seatback meets the bottom seat cushion, an area known as the seat bight. Attachments at the bottom of the child restraint connect to these. The top tether connects the top of the child seat to an anchor located on the vehicle's rear shelf, seatback, floor, cargo area or ceiling.

Child restraints can be installed with lower anchors or safety belts. A top tether should be used with every forward-facing child restraint, whether it is secured using the safety belt or using the lower anchors.

Only three cars met the Institute's criteria for an easy-to-use LATCH system, which included the depth and clearance of the lower anchors, the force required to connect the restraint to the anchors, and the location of the tether anchors. For a good rating, the system had to meet all five criteria.

The poor-rated vehicles run the gamut of vehicle types from minicars to large pickups. Most glaring is the Toyota Sienna. As a minivan, it's commonly bought to ferry children.