USA TODAY consumer reporter Jayne O'Donnell knows well the trouble of belting kids into car seats, and the seats themselves into cars. Now safety monitors have caught on. She reports today on how the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and University of Michigan Institute for Highway Safety found that most vehicles don't offer easy-to-install car seats.
When I was pregnant 12 years ago, we chose a vehicle partly because it had the then-new LATCH system for easy child seat installation.
Or at least that was the idea. LATCH - for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children - worked well in our new SUV, but that sure wasn't always the case when I test drove other vehicles. Few even had the anchors in the middle seat - the safest spot to transport our only child.
Our child may now be in middle school, but a report out today shows LATCH hasn't advanced very far in some vehicles since then. The system designed to eliminate the need for wrestling-style contortions to install child seats with car safety belts, still often requires a wrestler's upper body strength.
Only 21 of 98 2010-11 vehicles tested by IIHS and the University of Michigan's transportation institute met all of the requirements for ease of use. Seven -- the Buick Enclave CX, Chevrolet Impala LT, Dodge Avenger Express, Ford Flex SEL, Ford Taurus Limited, Hyundai Sonata Limited and Toyota Sienna XLE -- didn't meet any.
The cars, SUVs and pickups were tested based on whether the child-seat anchors were visible, easily accessible and usable without excessive force. If you needed to exert more than 40 pounds of force, the vehicle didn't pass muster. IIHS and UMTRI also took some vehicles to task for not having LATCH anchors for the rear center seat.
Automakers are required to have a minimum of two rear seats with LATCH anchors. Few offer any more than that.:
Just seven of the 98 vehicles surveyed have dedicated LATCH anchors in the center; for nine others, it's okay to borrow the anchors from the seats closest to the windows.
"Installing a child restraint isn't always as simple as a couple of clicks and you're done," says Anne McCartt, one of the report's authors. And that's still true 12 years after it was supposed to be.