Child Safety: A Good Place to Start is with a Properly Installed Safety Seat

By Debbie Hersman

For years (and years), we have called on automobile manufacturers and child-restraint manufacturers to provide our youngest passengers with adequate protection for when they are riding in cars. Over the past few decades, we have seen significant improvement in both the design of vehicles and child-restraint systems, but there is still more that can be done.

Today, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released the findings of joint research conducted by IIHS and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) that found that many vehicle seat designs continue to make child-restraint installation difficult for parents (and, of course, for others who are seeing to the safety of our younger travelers). Additionally, automakers are not adequately incorporating a system called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), which is designed to facilitate child-restraint installation by standardizing attachment hardware.

Let me explain. The researchers found that for LATCH to be correctly used automakers should make sure that the lower anchors are easy to see, easy to access (not obstructed by seat-belt buckles or seat material), and should not require parents to use a lot of force to connect the child-restraint attachments to the LATCH attachments in the vehicle. Unfortunately, only 21 of the 98 top-selling 2010-11 model passenger vehicles evaluated by researchers have LATCH designs that are easy to use.

Yet, the responsibility isn’t just with automakers. Researchers also found that parents are not using the available equipment properly. At the NTSB, we recognize the importance of educating parents on proper restraint use. In a promising development, earlier this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched its new “Parents Central” website, which is designed to provide parents with information to best protect their children — beginning from that first drive home from the hospital all the way to the first trip as a newly licensed driver.

New children and new parents are born every day, which means that education and outreach on child passenger safety never ends. I commend NHTSA, IIHS, and UMTRI for their continued commitment to this important safety issue.

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