Home » News » 2015 » Article
IIHS News | June 18, 2015Subscribe

IIHS launches ease-of-use ratings of LATCH hardware in vehicles

ARLINGTON, Va. — Only 3 vehicles of more than 100 evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have child restraint installation hardware that earns a good rating for ease of use, while more than half have hardware that is poor or marginal.

The Institute's new LATCH ratings will serve as a resource for families looking for a vehicle that makes it easy to transport their children safely. They also are intended to encourage vehicle manufacturers to pay attention to this equipment and make improvements.

Properly installed, age-appropriate child restraints provide considerably more protection for children in crashes than safety belts alone. However, observational studies have found that parents and caregivers often fail to secure them tightly or make other installation mistakes.

LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is intended to make it easier to install a child seat properly. It works: Child restraints installed with LATCH, rather than with vehicle safety belts, are more likely to be installed correctly, research has shown.

But in many vehicles, LATCH hardware could be better. Parents are more likely to install the seat correctly when the LATCH hardware meets certain key ease-of-use criteria.

"LATCH is meant to simplify child seat installations, but it doesn't always succeed," says Jessica Jermakian, an IIHS senior research scientist. "Parents often struggle to locate the anchors in the vehicle or find it’s difficult to attach the seats to them. We believe fixing these problems will make the task less frustrating for parents and increase the likelihood that children will ride in properly installed seats."

Good LATCH defined

LATCH has been required in vehicles and on child restraints since 2002. In a vehicle, the lower anchors are located where the seatback meets the bottom seat cushion, an area known as the seat bight. Attachments at the bottom of the child restraint connect to these. The top tether connects the top of the child seat to an anchor located on the vehicle's rear shelf, seatback, floor, cargo area or ceiling.

Child restraints can be installed with lower anchors or safety belts. A top tether should be used with every forward-facing child restraint, whether it is secured using the safety belt or using the lower anchors.

In the new ratings system, vehicle LATCH hardware is rated good if it meets the following criteria:

  • The lower anchors are no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat bight.
  • The lower anchors are easy to maneuver around. This is defined as having a clearance angle greater than 54 degrees.
  • The force required to attach a standardized tool to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds. (The tool represents a lower connector of a child seat, though the actual force required when installing a seat varies depending on the specific connector.)
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle's rear deck or on the top 85 percent of the seatback. They shouldn't be at the very bottom of the seatback, under the seat, on the ceiling or on the floor.
  • The area where the tether anchor is found doesn't have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor. If other hardware is present, then the tether anchor must have a clear label located within 3 inches of it.

Under federal regulations, most vehicles must have at least two rear seating positions with full LATCH hardware and a third with at least a tether anchor. The IIHS ratings are based on the best two LATCH positions available in the vehicle's second row.

To earn a good rating, two LATCH positions must meet all five criteria, and a third tether anchor also must be easy to use. For an acceptable rating, two LATCH positions must each meet at least 2 of the 3 requirements for lower anchors and at least 1 of the 2 tether anchor requirements. If either position meets neither of the tether anchor requirements or meets only one of the lower anchor requirements, then the vehicle is marginal. If even fewer criteria are met, the vehicle is poor.

The ratings measure ease of use only. A correct installation in a vehicle with poor LATCH is just as safe as a correct installation in a vehicle with good LATCH. The same is true for an installation with a vehicle safety belt: If it's done correctly — including attaching the tether in the case of a forward-facing restraint — the child will be just as safe as with an installation using lower anchors.

How vehicles rate

Of 102 current models that IIHS has rated for LATCH, the three good ones are the BMW 5 series, a large luxury car; the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, a large SUV; and the Volkswagen Passat, a midsize car. Of the rest, 44 are acceptable, 45 are marginal, and 10 are poor.

The poor-rated vehicles run the gamut of vehicle types from minicars to large pickups. Most glaring is the Toyota Sienna. As a minivan, it's commonly bought to ferry children.

The online ratings informationonline ratings information helps consumers understand exactly why a vehicle gets the rating it does. A diagram for each vehicle shows the location of all LATCH-equipped seating positions and which criteria those positions meet and which they miss. The location of extra tether anchors, for use with restraints attached with vehicle safety belts, is also shown.

In some cases, center seating positions don't have their own lower anchors, but manufacturers allow anchors to be "borrowed" from adjacent positions. The rating diagrams show when such borrowing is allowed by the vehicle manufacturer. (Some child restraint manufacturers advise against using borrowed anchors; consumers should check the restraint manual.)

"Even if you're not in the market for a new vehicle, our ratings can be a helpful source of information about a vehicle you already own," Jermakian says. "We're essentially providing you with a map of where child seats can be installed most easily in your vehicle, including the specific hardware available for each seating position."

Seating configurations and LATCH hardware can vary depending on the trim level or type of seats. The rating details indicate which specific vehicle was measured.

Good+ to reward greater flexibility

The Institute plans to award extra credit to vehicles with good-rated LATCH that also provide parents with additional LATCH options beyond the two required seating positions. In particular, the "good+" rating would encourage the availability of LATCH in the second-row center position, the safest place for children to travel. Currently, no vehicles qualify for good+.

A two-row vehicle that meets the criteria for a good rating and also has acceptable or good LATCH in the center will be rated good+. The center LATCH position may use either dedicated anchors or borrowed anchors.

A three-row vehicle must have one additional full LATCH position and tether anchors in all rear seating positions to earn good+. If the vehicle has a second-row center seating position, it must have the ability to use LATCH there as well.


Current LATCH ratings

(2015 models unless otherwise noted)

Good
BMW 5 seriesMercedes-Benz GL-ClassVolkswagen Passat
Acceptable
Acura MDXDodge DurangoHonda OdysseyMazda 3
Buick EnclaveDodge Grand CaravanHonda PilotMazda CX-5
Chevrolet CruzeFord EdgeHyundai Santa FeMercedes-Benz C-Class
Chevrolet EquinoxFord ExpeditionJeep CherokeeMercedes-Benz E-Class
Chevrolet ImpalaFord ExplorerJeep CompassMitsubishi Outlander Sport
Chevrolet MalibuFord FlexKia Forte2014 Nissan Maxima
Chevrolet TahoeFord FocusKia OptimaNissan Murano
Chevrolet TraverseFord TaurusKia SedonaNissan Pathfinder
Chrysler 300GMC TerrainKia SorentoNissan Versa
Chrysler Town & CountryGMC Yukon XLKia SoulToyota Camry
Dodge DartHonda CivicLexus GXVolvo S60
Marginal
2016 Acura RDXFord EscapeLexus CT 200hSubaru Impreza
Audi Q7Ford F-150Lexus NXSubaru Outback
BMW 3 seriesFord FusionLexus RCSubaru XV Crosstrek
2016 BMW X3GMC AcadiaLexus RXToyota 4Runner
BMW X5Honda AccordMazda CX-9Toyota Avalon
Buick LaCrosseHonda CR-VMini CooperToyota Corolla
Cadillac SRXHyundai ElantraNissan FrontierToyota Highlander
Chevrolet SonicHyundai SonataNissan QuestToyota Prius
Chrysler 200Infiniti QX60Nissan RogueToyota RAV4
Dodge ChargerJeep Grand CherokeeNissan SentraVolvo V60
Dodge JourneyJeep WranglerSubaru ForesterVolvo XC60
Dodge Ram 1500
Poor
Chevrolet Silverado 1500Hyundai AccentNissan AltimaToyota Tundra
Ford FiestaLexus ESToyota SiennaVolkswagen Jetta
GMC Sierra 1500Mazda 6

Current LATCH ratings

(2015 models unless otherwise noted)

Good

  • BMW 5 series
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
  • Volkswagen Passat

Acceptable

  • Acura MDX
  • Buick Enclave
  • Chevrolet Cruze
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Chevrolet Impala
  • Chevrolet Malibu
  • Chevrolet Tahoe
  • Chevrolet Traverse
  • Chrysler 300
  • Chrysler Town & Country
  • Dodge Dart
  • Dodge Durango
  • Dodge Grand Caravan
  • Ford Edge
  • Ford Expedition
  • Ford Explorer
  • Ford Flex
  • Ford Focus
  • Ford Taurus
  • GMC Terrain
  • GMC Yukon XL
  • Honda Civic
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Honda Pilot
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Jeep Cherokee
  • Jeep Compass
  • Kia Forte
  • Kia Optima
  • Kia Sedona
  • Kia Sorento
  • Kia Soul
  • Lexus GX
  • Mazda 3
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class
  • Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
  • 2014 Nissan Maxima
  • Nissan Murano
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Nissan Versa
  • Toyota Camry
  • Volvo S60

Marginal

  • 2016 Acura RDX
  • Audi Q7
  • BMW 3 series
  • 2016 BMW X3
  • BMW X5
  • Buick LaCrosse
  • Cadillac SRX
  • Chevrolet Sonic
  • Chrysler 200
  • Dodge Charger
  • Dodge Journey
  • Dodge Ram 1500
  • Ford Escape
  • Ford F-150
  • Ford Fusion
  • GMC Acadia
  • Honda Accord
  • Honda CR-V
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Hyundai Sonata
  • Infiniti QX60
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Jeep Wrangler
  • Lexus CT 200h
  • Lexus NX
  • Lexus RC
  • Lexus RX
  • Mazda CX-9
  • Mini Cooper
  • Nissan Frontier
  • Nissan Quest
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Subaru Forester
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Subaru Outback
  • Subaru XV Crosstrek
  • Toyota 4Runner
  • Toyota Avalon
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Toyota Prius
  • Toyota RAV4
  • Volvo V60
  • Volvo XC60

Poor

  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500
  • Ford Fiesta
  • GMC Sierra 1500
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Lexus ES
  • Mazda 6
  • Nissan Altima
  • Toyota Sienna
  • Toyota Tundra
  • Volkswagen Jetta

©1996-2016, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org