During the nearly eight-year lifespan of my youngest child I have railed in this space at least three times already about the absurd absence of standardized anchor systems for children’s car seats.
Each editorial tantrum has invariably followed the obscenity-laced experience of attempting to properly install my daughter’s car seat. I rarely remove it, but on those occasions when I must, the ordeal of re-installation is enough to drive me to the edge of blind rage.
For most parents, no backseat cargo is remotely as precious as the children they buckle into a car seat. My daughter’s car seat is a marvel of modern engineering, composed of pressed steel, molded plastic and foam padding. It rivals in sophisticated design, safety engineering and price the racing seats in a NASCAR Sprint Cup sedan.
And yet all that engineered safety is meaningless unless the seat can be properly anchored on the back seat of my car, which has convenient anchor points for the pin-clips the seat is designed to attach with.
I am a reasonably-fit, mechanically-adept and sufficiently-strong adult male, and I should be able to master most such installation challenges.
But anchoring that seat securely enough that it will not move more than an inch or two under severe deceleration requires that I crouch in a kneeling position on the bottom cushion of the seat, compressing it into the car’s seat cushion with every ounce of my 185 pounds, while forcing down the nose of the locking clip onto the anchor pin with the butt-end of a hammer handle with all my might.
My wife, along with fully 75 percent of the rest of America’s child car seat owners, is unable to do this with the identical child’s seat she has in her car. So the job reverts to me. And invariably I struggle and swear and push and kneel and bounce through an ordeal that never takes less than 10 minutes. Why?
Seventy-five percent of American child car seats are improperly attached because it is too hard for a majority of Americans to install them properly in cars that nevertheless have anti-lock breaks, automatic stability control, collision avoidance systems, blind-spot monitors, run-flat tires and, in experimental models, the ability to navigate public highways without a driver.
And yet, we can’t design and mandate the installation of a simple automatic car seat docking system with an electronic ratchet that automatically tightens the seat in place through either electric or hydraulic power. Seriously?
The Sonoma Police Department’s traffic safety officer had to attend a 40-hour training session to learn how to teach others to properly install their car seats. It is hard to comprehend why that should even be necessary.
Recognizing the large number of injuries (and several hundred annual deaths) caused by improperly installed car seats, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that parents contact a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician for help. To which we must again insist, why? Why should we have to? Why can’t we require that manufacturers of cars and car seats get together and design a common, automatically tightening anchor system that will allow anyone to put a child car seat safely in place in less than a minute?