Engineering Easier Installation for Child Safety Seats
As parents, we always want to ensure our children are as safe as possible when riding in a car. I may have been considered a bit of an over-protective parent, but my number-one rule was that all passengers HAD to be properly buckled in to their safety seats or wearing their seatbelts. And no, the armrest is NOT a place to seat your child!
In 2015, IIHS established the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) rating program to encourage automakers to design LATCH hardware that meets specific ease-of-use criteria. While child restraints can be installed properly using vehicle safety belts, using the LATCH system is intended to make correct installation easier for parents.
Toyota listened to IIHS and took quick action. “We began by going through our North American vehicles one by one, identifying the issues and prioritizing the solutions that had the biggest impact and could be implemented quickly,” said Jennifer Pelky, senior engineer at the Toyota Technical Center and a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. “Some of the biggest challenges we faced were balancing ease-of-use with safety regulation requirements, comfort, and aesthetics.” The dedication of Toyota’s engineers resulted in many of Toyota’s North American vehicles achieving improved ratings.
Toyota already has more vehicles rated as Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick + by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) than any other automaker, but thanks to these new designs, the manufacturer now has yet another rating to add to its list of accolades,:an IIHS Good+ rating for Child Safety Seat Ease-of-Use.
Due to the timing of the LATCH protocol release and the development timing of the Prius, the Toyota seat design team chose to focus on the seat itself, rather than the lower anchor wires to improve usability. The goal of the Toyota designers and engineers was to find a way to make the lower anchors as easy to use as the lower anchors in other “good” rated vehicles, such as the Lexus RX. Ultimately they found that deeper anchors could be as easy to use as closer anchors if the access to them was large enough. Through this activity, the Prius open-access concept was born. As a result of these efforts to improve ease-of-use, the Toyota Prius received the best rating possible by IIHS—Good+.
“As a safety engineer and a mother of two young boys, I understand that installing a child safety seat is not always the easiest task,” said Pelky. “I’m proud to have played a role in making that part of parenting a bit easier.”
How Do You Know If Your Child Safety Seat Is Installed Correctly?
Even though most parents are fairly adept at using the lower anchors, research shows that only about 50 percent of child seats are attached using the LATCH system's top tethers. The top tethers hold the car seat against the seatback and reduces the car seat's forward and side movement, reducing the movement of your child’s head by 6 to 8 inches in a crash.
When a child-safety seat is installed correctly, it should move no more than an inch from side to side and front to back. To test this, grab the car seat at the belt path, where either the seat belt or LATCH strap threads through the car seat, and give it a good tug. The top of the car seat should move no more than an inch in any direction after being tethered.
A new study that finds an alarming number of parents are allowing kids to use a seat belt alone before they are big enough.
Although you may have a good decade or more of driving experience under your belt, you quickly learn that operating a vehicle with your kids in the backseat is a whole other ballgame.
For tips, guidance and advice on how to properly install your child safety seat, visit SaferCar.gov to find a car seat check in your area.