Few new-car buyers know it, but at least 62 2001 model vehicles are equipped with a new child seat anchoring system that will become standard equipment next year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration generally refers to this standardized mounting system as LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), for simpler buckling and unbuckling of child seats. All new U.S. vehicles and child restraints must be LATCH-compatible by Sept. 1, 2002.
Authorities say most child seats are not properly secured because doing so with seat belts and locking clips is often frustrating for parents. Many drivers don't bother to use the locking clips, and those who do often find them difficult to use. Many dealerships have offered free programs to show parents how to install the seats properly.
With the new system, child seats are now available with special latches at the base that extend and connect to metal bars now appearing in back seats of new vehicles. The bars are found wedged between the seat back and seat bottom.
A strap atop the child seat attaches to another metal anchor bar behind the vehicle seat, to keep the child seat from lurching forward in a collision.
In a sedan, the rear anchor appears on the package tray above and behind the seat; in a minivan or sport/utility vehicle, the rear anchor appears on the floor or at the base of the seat. In the new Ford Escape SUV, the upper anchors are located in the headliner, near the hinges for the rear hatch.
A recent survey by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety revealed at least 62 2001 model vehicles now equipped with LATCH as standard equipment. Still, the informational campaign surrounding LATCH has been spotty. Perhaps a more aggressive educational campaign will come as the September 2002 mandate nears.