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Easy-to-use car seat a myth, and the ratings prove it

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published Jan. 30, 2008, thehive.modbee.com

I’m from the government and I’m here to help you?

That actually happened today when the National Transportation Safety Administration unveiled a new way for parents to evaluate car seats – ease of use.

All the old standards remain – quality of instructions and labels and, the most important one, how well it secures the child.

Now they’ve added ease of use to the five-star system, in an attempt to tell parents how hard the seat is to install.

You’ll have to pardon my pessimism – I refuse to say “how easy the seat is to install,” because none is. Not unless you’re Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci. They’ve probably choreographed a floor exercise based on car-seat installation.

I am a smallish, fairly limber person, but my cute little single-girl sports car didn’t last a month back at work after Big Guy was born. Oh, how I loved that car! Oh how I hated the daily back spasm from trying to get Big Guy’s bucket fitted into its base.

So I reluctantly traded up to a full-size four-door mom-mobile. Two years later, when Little Guy came along, it turned out to be a smart move.

You would think the additional room would mean fewer hassles, and on a day-in, day-out basis, that’s true. The guys’ car seats both are rated three stars when used facing forward, which is about right. Big Guy’s harness is so easy to work that he’s been able to fasten and unfasten it for almost a year. Sometime’s he’s out of his belt before I am. Little Guy’s I can unhook one-handed.

But there always comes a day when you have to remove the seats, whether it’s because of vacation or due to an accumulated Cheerio mountain that’s left the kids riding so high you can’t see out the rear-view mirror.

And that’s when the agony starts all over again.

First, you have to contort yourself into a position facing the seat so you can attach its tether to the anchors in the car. That’s where limber comes in handy.

Then you have to squeeze the metal hooks on the tether over the anchor bars. That’s where smallish is a disadvantage, because of the weak little hands that come with smallish. This “simple process” can take 15 minutes or more. Seriously. I’ve nearly missed planes trying to get the blasted seats uninstalled. And then when you land, you get to do it all over again.

At least the tether and anchor system, known as LATCH and required on all vehicles and car seats made after September 2002, beats the heck out of trying to thread the regular seat belt through the car seat.

For me at least – some might find the old system easier, but it actually tempted me to force old and dear friends to hitch hike rather than uninstall the car seat to make room for them in the back.

The bad news about the ratings is that not a single convertible car seat earned five stars, and there’s only a sprinkling of fours. Both the guys’ seats are convertible, because I decided I’d rather spend a bit more for one seat than buy three separate models.

If I’d wanted to spend even more, I could have bought the only five-star forward-facing seat on the market.

It’s the SafeGuard Safety seat, and it retails for $400. Thanks, but no thanks. At that price, I’ll endure the occasional back spasm and airport sprint.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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