Many parents are confused about the proper way to install child safety seats in their vehicles despite attempts to simplify the system, the government said.
About 40 percent of parents still rely on seat belts when installing the car seat, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in a survey. And only about 55 percent of parents use the top tether built into the vehicle’s back seat to help secure their children.
In 2002, NHTSA required all new vehicles and child seats to have attachments designed to make them fit together like a key in a lock _ without using a seat belt. The system, called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH, was developed to make sure seats fit tightly and provide an alternative method of attaching the seats.
“LATCH was supposed to simplify child safety seat installation for parents, and this study shows that isn’t happening,” said NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason.
Using upper tethers for child safety seats helps reduce the tilting or rotation of the seat during a frontal crash. Safety advocates also note that the traditional method of using seat belts to attach a car seat can lead to a loose fit.
Government researchers said the 55-percent use rate of the top tether was a vast improvement compared with surveys taken in the 1980s. But they noted that “many parents are not yet protecting their children with this technology.”
The study also found that more than half of the parents who did not use the upper tether or lower attachments cited a lack of knowledge of the system.
Henry Jasny, general counsel of Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, said the findings showed the need for more education about the system or another approach that is “more eye-catching.”
The survey was conducted from April-October 2005 at shopping centers, child care facilities and other locations in seven states. It included observations and interviews with drivers for 1,121 children under age 4 in child safety seats.
Nason said she planned to bring together automakers, safety advocates, consumer activists and car seat manufacturers early next year to discuss ways of improving the system.
The government recommends car safety seats for children up to 40 pounds and booster seats for children over 40 pounds until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. All children should ride in the back seat until age 13.
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