What would make installation even easier, she believes, is color coding, so parents can easily see what strap fits with what anchor. It's somewhat akin to home entertainment systems, where connectors and ports are often color-coded for easy matching.
What's needed for car seats and LATCH is an easier and more foolproof system to increase the number of proper installations, says Chris Theodore, a former engineer and top-level executive in the auto industry and now a technical advisor for Lap Belt Cinch, a company that makes safety devices.
Take the example of the center backseat that often lacks LATCH. Carmakers "might take another look" and install a third LATCH system there, Theodore says.
NHTSA says it is working on a voluntary program that would help give parents some information on the best matches between seats and vehicles. At least one carmaker (Nissan) already offers an online guide that shows parents which seats fit with which of its car models.
Improving Booster Seat Safety
Booster seats for older children also can be problematic. The seats are meant to lift children so that the safety belts designed for adults fit them better.
The boosters on the market today are better than they used to be at fitting the lap and shoulder belts on kids, IIHS says. Still, it can be difficult to pick the right booster to achieve the right belt fit in a specific vehicle. The government doesn't include belt fit in the regulation for booster seats, McCartt says.
The makers of booster seats crash-test the devices and the government does dynamic tests of crash performance, McCartt says. But what is crucial is the belt's fit. For that reason, IIHS is conducting tests for belt fit on boosters, she says.
Using a special device, the IIHS researchers are testing booster seats, using a dummy that represents a 6-year-old child. For a good booster fit, the lap belt should lie flat and on top of the thighs, not higher up on the abdomen. The shoulder belt should fit across the middle of the youngster's shoulder. The institute posts illustrations of good fit and poor fit on its site. It also offers booster seat ratings.