Could Poorly Designed Child Safety Seats Result in Death?

Ask almost any parent and chances are they will share their tales of struggling to get the car seat properly installed in the back seat of the car. It comes as no surprise, then, that a recent study found exactly how difficult it is to install child safety seats.

The study, jointly conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, concluded that parents could easily install safety seats in only 21 of the 98 top-selling 2010-2011 car models. Parent volunteers for the study all had experience installing the seats and were allowed to consult the owner’s manual. Despite this, only 13 percent properly installed the seats.

Researchers said that the problem lies with car manufacturers, not parents, because the design process does not take ease of use into consideration.

In 2004, the National Highway Transportation Safety Board released a statement that it was concerned about the “critical misuse” of child safety seats. From this came the creation of a new child safety system: the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children system or “Latch” system. Latch was intended to improve child seat safety. But the study suggests that car manufacturers’ passenger seat designs make it difficult to actually use the Latch system.

In the event of an accident, improperly installed child safety seats put children at risk. Careful engineering should make proper installation easy, so the low rate of successful installation suggests that poor design is to blame. The question for car manufacturers is not a matter of “if” but rather a matter of “when” a child will die because a defective auto design caused a child safety seat to fail.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Insurance group says car design hinders use of child safety seats,” 4/11/12.