WASHINGTON -- Federal safety officials and safety advocates say that automakers and their seat suppliers have more work to do to ensure that child passengers are properly secured in new vehicles.
Dr. Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Adrian Lund, COO of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, unveiled the findings Wednesday.
The institute, a research and analysis organization for auto insurers, tested six child safety seats in 10 representative vehicles and found that not all seats work in all vehicles. This occurs despite the adoption of a federal rule requiring a standardized child seat connecting system in new vehicles, beginning with the 2003 model year.
The standardized system, known as LATCH, uses uniformly designed lower anchors and top tethers, supposedly so that child seats will snap into place. In older vehicles, adults typically wrestle child seats into place and attempt to secure them with seat belts.
But institute researchers found that in some cases LATCH anchors were buried between the seat back and seat bottom. In other cases, the vehicle seat's contour prevented attachments from being made at all.
The institute said it had the most difficulty fitting child safety seats in the Hyundai Santa Fe and Cadillac CTS. It found the easiest fits on the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Dodge Grand Caravan and Toyota RAV4.
Runge and Lund say they've received assurances that automakers and suppliers will cooperate in eliminating the incompatibilities.
"We think it's a fixable problem," Lund says.
But Mike Anson, spokesman for Hyundai Motor America, says the institute's testing wasn't scientific and used a small sample of child safety seats.
So, Hyundai, rather than promising to revise its vehicle seats, is urging its customers to test child seats before buying them to make sure they work in Hyundai vehicles.
Also on Wednesday, NHTSA, with backing from the insurance institute and Consumers Union, unveiled a rating system for child seats.
NHTSA is giving grades of A, B or C to child safety seats on the market. The scores are based primarily on clarity of instructions and ease of use - including how conveniently they work with LATCH.
Runge said NHTSA chose not to use its familiar five-star ratings because it did not find enough differences among seats for five categories and because the agency expects every child seat to eventually earn an A.
Lori Miller, a program analyst at NHTSA, said the agency still is considering whether also to rate child safety seats that are built into some vehicles.