Every parent has to deal, at some point, with the dreaded car seat. As annoying as it is, it's important to install correctly, for the safety of the kids in the back. Unfortunately, parents are getting it wrong. A lot of them.
According to one study, 70%. Yes, seven in 10 parents don't have their car seats correctly installed. But is it the fault of the parents...or the car manufacturers?
It seems to be a little bit of both. The seats themselves are overly complicated, the hardware to install them is difficult to use, and parents often take a "good enough" mentality when installing them, or just don't understand the directions.
Let's start by explaining how a car seat is supposed to be set up. All cars manufactured in 2003 or later have a system called LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. All LATCH really consists of are two sets of solidly attached anchors, one set at the bottom of the seat where the cushions meet the other two on the top, to allow for straps on the seat to be easily and safely secured. Here's a quick video illustrating how it works:
Seem simple? That was the idea, but engineering often gets in the way. First of all, that's not the only safety hardware built into the seat: there's also the standard seat belt hardware, and possibly other hardware. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the research arm of the insurance industry, found rear seat design made proper installation difficult and sometimes even almost impossible for parents.
Adding to the problem: the new design has not turned out to be easier to use, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Safety Institute. One mother describes using her knee and some brute force to finally get the connectors to click into place. (Don’t tell her auto insurance company!)
But that doesn't mean America's parents are entirely off the hook. For example, it was found that when parents flip the seat from backwards facing to forwards facing, many forgot to use the top tether, which is absolutely key in protecting children from spinal and neck injuries in case of a frontal crash. Part of this has to do with the fact that the design is confusing, but there's still enough blame to go around for not trying hard enough.
So, what do you as a concerned parent do?
- First of all, check your car seat's directions carefully. If you find them confusing, the Internet is here to rescue you: YouTube has dozens of instructional videos for installing every brand of car seat you can think of.
- Don't wait until you have to load the kids into the car to install it; part of the problem is that parents assume it's a matter of buckling a seat belt, not installing a serious piece of safety equipment. Take a deep breath, find a point in the day where you have an hour or two, and then slowly and methodically install the seat. Keep in mind, this is designed to be difficult to knock loose: correspondingly, it's going to be a bit difficult to get installed.
- Monitor your children carefully in terms of size and weight, and make sure that they have the appropriate car seat. For example, until a child is age eight or so, he or she should be using some form of car seat, graduating from rear-facing, to front-facing, to booster seat as they age.
It can be frustrating, but the pay-off is that you'll be able to drive with a load off your mind. Well, one of the loads on your mind lifted, at least. The kids yelling at each other, that's an entirely separate problem. We recommend building a wall in the back seat or something.