Are Car Seats Getting Any Easier to Install?

One decade after LATCH mandate, AAA finds misuse prevails

(WASHINGTON, September 17, 2012 )– Installing a car seat correctly is no easy task.  In fact, it is estimated that nearly three out of four car seats are not properly installed. Despite technologies, such as Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren (LATCH), aimed at simplifying the car seat installation process, many parents are still missing the mark.  AAA’s recent survey of Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs), those certified to inspect and properly install car seats, reveals that LATCH misuse is cause for concern.  Nearly three quarters of CPSTs surveyed observe parents misusing the LATCH system more than half of the time.

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“While strides have been made to make car seats easier to use, the overwhelming majority of car seats are still not installed properly,” cautioned Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, manager, Traffic Safety Advocacy.  “AAA reminds parents to protect their most precious cargo by having their car seat installations inspected by a professional.”

LATCH has been required in nearly all vehicles and car seats since September 2002 and is touted as a user-friendly alternative to the seat belt.  According to NHTSA, 75 percent of parents with experience installing car seats using both methods prefer LATCH.  Despite this preference, LATCH does not guarantee a perfect installation; a recent IIHS survey revealed that only 13 percent of parent volunteers were able to use correctly use LATCH to install car seats.

The top misuses reported by CPSTs in the AAA recent survey:

Using LATCH in the rear-center seating position when not permitted by the vehicle manufacturer.

Safety experts have long promoted the rear-center seat as the safest seating position for children. However, in an IIHS study of 2010-11 model year vehicles, only 7 of the 98 top-selling vehicles supported LATCH use in the rear-center seat. Many parents make the mistake of using the inner anchor for each outboard seat to install a car seat in the center seat using LATCH.  If the vehicle does not support a LATCH installation in the rear-center seat, use a seat belt to secure the car seat, or move the car seat to an outboard seat. Be sure to always consult the vehicle owner’s manual before installing a car seat in any vehicle.

Using both the seatbelt AND the LATCH system to install the car seat.

While parents may think using both the seat belt and the LATCH system will provide additional protection, the opposite may be true.  In the event of a crash, belts are designed to expand and absorb crash forces.  If both systems are used, the crash forces may be distributed improperly, resulting in injury or death. Unless both the vehicle owner’s manual and the car seat manufacturer’s manual approve using both methods together, select either the seatbelt or the LATCH system.

Using the wrong belt path with the LATCH attachments to install the car seat.

Convertible car seats have belt paths for both rear-facing and forward-facing installations.  When installing the car seat, consult the car seat manufacturer’s instructions to determine which belt path to use.  Selecting the incorrect belt path will leave the seat improperly secured.

AAA’s recent survey also revealed that installation “difficulties” go beyond choosing which installation method to use.  CPSTs have reported well-intentioned parents using all types of everyday items, from bungee cords and plywood to zip ties and shoe laces to secure car seats. “Not only do these common items interfere with proper installation,” warned Huebner-Davidson, “but they can become projectiles in the event of a crash.”

Proper installation of a car seat provides children with the best protection in a crash.  Consulting an expert can be critical to ensuring that children are secured in the safest manner possible. Experts are available to help parents with their car seat installation by visiting your local AAA club, or calling 866-SEATCHECK (866-732-8243). For additional information on AAA’s child passenger safety resources for parents and caregivers, visit

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 53 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at


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