Car Seats

NHTSA Car Seats Ease of Use Ratings

Sandra W Bullock

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If you are looking for a 5-star rated car seat based on National Highway and Transport Safety Authority(NHTSA) ratings, you’ve landed on the right page. Having struggled myself to locate the list of NHTSA ease of use ratings for different car seats, I made sure to put it up here so that my fellow parents can access it as well.

What is NHTSA’s Ease of Use Rating?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Ease of Use ratings are part of a system designed to evaluate how easy it is to find, correctly install, and use child restraints in vehicles. These ratings are aimed at helping parents and caregivers make informed decisions when selecting car seats for children.

The NHTSA evaluates car seats based on several criteria, including the clarity of the instruction manual, the ease of using the car seat features, the labeling on the car seat itself, and the ease of securing the child correctly in the seat. Car seats are then assigned an Ease of Use rating ranging from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 stars indicating that the car seat is the easiest to use in terms of installation and securing a child.

This rating system is intended to encourage manufacturers to design car seats that are user-friendly and to assist consumers in finding car seats that they can use correctly every time, thus enhancing the safety of child passengers.

NHTSA Star Rating System

Ease of use Ranking Factors:

Evaluation of labels:

This factor assesses the clarity, completeness, and accessibility of the information provided on the car seat labels. It includes evaluating the labels for instructions on how to properly install the car seat, secure a child, and the labels’ visibility and legibility. High scores indicate that the labels are clear, easy to understand, and provide all necessary information to ensure the car seat is used safely and correctly.

The specific factors used to score the evaluation of labels for each car seat include;

  • Is there a clear indication of proper child size?
  • Are all modes of use clearly indicated?
  • Are the correct harness slots for this mode indicated?
  • Does it have a seat belt and lower attachment routing part clarity?
  • Does it show how to prepare and use lower attachments?
  • Does it show how to prepare and use tether?
  • Does it have the durability of labels?
evaluation of labels as nhtsa ranking factor for ease of use

Instructions/Manual Usability:

Manual usability focuses on the instruction manual that comes with the car seat. This evaluation looks at how well the manual communicates the installation process, usage instructions, and safety guidelines. A high rating in this category signifies that the manual is well-organized, easy to follow, and includes comprehensive details with clear illustrations or diagrams to assist users in properly using the car seat.

evaluation of instructions as part of Nhtsa ranking factors

Securing a child:

This ranking factor examines how easy it is to adjust the car seat to fit the child securely and comfortably. It includes the ease of adjusting harnesses, the clarity of instructions regarding harness use, and the simplicity of making sure the child is properly positioned in the seat. High scores in this area indicate that the car seat allows for quick, straightforward adjustments to accommodate children of different sizes and ensure their safety.

securing a child ranking factors nhtsa

Ease of installation:

The ease of installation in a vehicle assesses how straightforward it is for a caregiver to correctly install the car seat in their vehicle using either the seat belt or LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). Factors such as the ease of routing vehicle belt for installation, tether adjustment, twisting of lower attachments, the difficulty of attaching the car seat to the vehicle, and the provision of features that facilitate a correct and secure installation are considered. A car seat that scores well in this category is one that can be installed quickly, easily, and securely by most caregivers.

installation in vehicle ranking factors

Ease of Use vs Crash Test Ratings:

Ease of Use Ratings

Ensuring that a car restraint is user-friendly can help prevent misuse and lower child passenger fatalities. The NHTSA reports that vehicle crashes are a major cause of death for children nationwide, with 46% of child car seats being misused according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to another NHTSA Report, using a safety seat correctly can lower the risk of fatalities by 71% and the risk of serious injuries by 67%.

Car seats rated 4/5 or 5/5 are easy to install and proper installation and use are critical for ensuring the car seat functions as intended in a crash. A car seat that is easier to use is more likely to be used correctly, which can significantly improve child passenger safety.

Read more on NHTSA’s website here.

Crash Test Ratings

On the other hand, crash test ratings indicate how well a car seat will protect a child in the event of a crash. These ratings are determined by testing the car seat in simulated crashes that replicate real-life scenarios.

Side-impact protection, load leg, anti-rebound bar, and energy-absorbing materials are some of the features that can improve a car seat’s crash test performance. However, these features do not necessarily make the car seat easier to use.

In Consumer Report’s crash test ratings, car seats equipped with a load leg and ARBs, for example, performed better in front-impact collisions than those without these features.

It is essential to find a balance between ease of use and crash test ratings when selecting a car seat for your child. A high ease of use rating does not guarantee excellent protection in a crash, and a high crash test rating does not guarantee easy installation and proper use. Check out safety ratings for infant car seats here. You can also find the safest convertible car seat as per these crash test results.

Analysis of NHTSA Ease of Use Car Seat Ratings:

Summary Statistics for Ratings

  • Usability of Labels Rating: Averages at 3.11, with a range from 1 to 5.
  • Usability of Manual Rating: Averages at 4.28, indicating generally high usability, with a range from 3 to 5.
  • Ease of Use Securing the Child Rating: Averages at 3.47, with a range from 1 to 5.
  • Ease of Installation in Vehicle Rating: Averages at 3.64, with a range from 1 to 5.
  • Overall Rating: Averages at 3.57, with a range from 1 to 5.

Distribution of Overall Ratings

  • 1-star rating: 2 car seats
  • 2-star rating: 4 car seats
  • 3-star rating: 33 car seats
  • 4-star rating: 46 car seats
  • 5-star rating: 7 car seats

The majority of car seats (46) received an overall rating of 4, indicating a generally high level of ease of use. Ratings of 5, which signify the highest ease of use, were awarded to 7 car seats. The distribution shows a positive skew towards higher ratings, with the majority of seats scoring above the median.

The chart below illustrates the distribution of overall ease-of-use ratings for car seats. It shows the number of car seats receiving each rating, from 1 to 5, with the majority receiving a rating of 4, indicating a high level of usability. Ratings of 5, representing the highest level of ease of use, were awarded to a smaller number of car seats. This distribution highlights the general trend towards higher usability ratings among the car seats evaluated. ​​

ease of use ratings distributions across car seats

Average Ratings Across Different Ease of Use Ranking Factors:

  • Labels Usability: 3.11
  • Manual Usability: 4.28
  • Securing the Child: 3.47
  • Installation in Vehicle: 3.64
  • Overall Rating: 3.57

The data indicates that, on average, manuals are rated the highest in terms of usability, suggesting that most car seat manuals are clear and helpful. Installation in vehicle and securing the child also receive relatively high ratings, indicating a positive user experience in these aspects. The slightly lower average rating for labels suggests there may be room for improvement in the clarity or usefulness of labels on the car seats.

Below is a chart showing the average ease of use ratings for each ranking factor for all 92 car seats evaluated by NHTSA.

average scores for ease of use nhtsa ranking factors

5-Star NHTSA Rated Car Seats:

Only 7 out of the 92 car seats evaluated by NHTSA on ease of use received a five-star rating.

Out of the 7 car seats with 5-star ratings, only 2 scored excellent 20/20 points while 4 received 19/20 and 1 received 18/20.

Below are the two brands that scored 20/20:

It is important to note that high scores in ease of use do not necessarily mean that the car seat has excellent protection ratings. Therefore, it is crucial to carefully evaluate both the ease of use and crash test ratings when selecting a car seat for your child’s safety.

Below are the brands that scored 19/20;

The brand below scored 18/20;

Below is a chart I prepared showing a comparison of all 7 car seats that scored 5 stars in the latest 2021 NHTSA ease of use ratings.

comparison table of NHTSA 5-star rated  car seats on 4 ranking factors

Safe Car Seats that Scored 5-Star Rating on Securing a Child(NHTSA):

Out of the 92 car seats evaluated by NHTSA, 24 of them or about 26% scored a 5-star rating on securing a child category. Below are all the brands rated top for securing a child;

  1. Graco 4Ever DLX (FF)
  2. Cybex Sirona S (RF)
  3. UPPAbaby Mesa
  4. Britax Grow With You (FF)
  5. Evenflo EveryFit (FF)
  6. Britax Advocate Clicktight (FF)
  7. Britax Advocate Clicktight ARB (FF)
  8. Britax Boulevard Clicktight (RF)
  9. Britax Boulevard Clicktight (FF)
  10. Chicco Fit4 (FF)
  11. Cybex Cloud Q
  12. Graco Atlas 65(FF)
  13. Maxi-Cosi RodiFix
  14. Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air (RF)
  15. Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB (FF)
  16. Britax Marathon Clicktight (FF)
  17. Cybex Sirona S (FF)
  18. Graco 4Ever with Safety Surround (FF)
  19. Graco Triride (FF)
  20. Britax Marathon Clicktight ARB (FF)
  21. Graco TrioGrow Snuglock LX (FF)
  22. Graco Milestone (RF)
  23. Graco Milestone (FF)
  24. Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air (FF)

4-star NHTSA Ease of Use Ratings:

Out of the 92 car seats evaluated by NHTSA, 46 car seats or 50% scored a 4-star rating on the ease of use category. Below are all the brands that received a 4-star rating for ease of use;

  1. Britax Advocate Clicktight (RF)
  2. Britax Advocate Clicktight (FF)
  3. Britax Advocate Clicktight ARB (RF)
  4. Britax Advocate Clicktight ARB (FF)
  5. Britax Boulevard Clicktight (RF)
  6. Britax Boulevard Clicktight (FF)
  7. Britax Skyline Booster
  8. Chicco Fit4 (RF)
  9. Chicco Fit4 (FF)
  10. Cybex Cloud Q
  11. Evenflo Litemax 35
  12. Graco 4Ever DLX (RF)
  13. Graco 4Ever DLX (B)
  14. Graco Atlas 65(FF)
  15. Graco Atlas 65(B)
  16. Graco Milestone (B)
  17. Maxi-Cosi RodiFix
  18. Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air (RF)
  19. Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air 360
  20. Baby Jogger City Go Air
  21. Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB (RF)
  22. Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB (FF)
  23. Britax Grow With You Clicktight Plus (FF)
  24. Britax Grow With You Clicktight Plus (B)
  25. Britax Marathon Clicktight (RF)
  26. Britax Marathon Clicktight (FF)
  27. Cybex Aton 2 Sensor Safe
  28. Cybex Sirona S (FF)
  29. Graco 4Ever with Safety Surround (RF)
  30. Graco 4Ever with Safety Surround (FF)
  31. Graco 4Ever with Safety Surround (B)
  32. Graco Triride (RF)
  33. Graco Triride (FF)
  34. Graco Triride (B)
  35. Graco Turbobooster LX with True Shield
  36. Baby Trend Cover Me (FF)
  37. Baby Trend Hybrid 3-in-1 (B)
  38. Britax Grow With You Clicktight (FF)
  39. Britax Highpoint
  40. Britax Marathon Clicktight ARB (RF)
  41. Britax Marathon Clicktight ARB (FF)
  42. Chicco Kidfit
  43. Evenflo EveryFit (RF)
  44. Graco TrioGrow Snuglock LX (RF)
  45. Graco TrioGrow Snuglock LX (FF)
  46. Graco TrioGrow Snuglock LX (B)

Below is a chart showing all the ratings of 4-star car seats as evaluated by NHTSA for ease of use;

comparison of 4 star car seats nhtsa ease of use ratings

Other NHTSA’s Ease of Use Rating(Below 3 Stars):

3-Star Rated Seats:

33 car seats out of the evaluated 92 received a 3-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in terms of ease of use. This means that these car seats have been found to have some issues with securing a child correctly, improper labeling and instructions, or difficulty with installation.

Below is the entire list of 3-star car seats;

  1. Baby Trend Trooper (RF)
  2. Baby Trend Trooper (FF)
  3. Bugaboo Turtle
  4. Chicco Fit4 (B)
  5. Diono Radian 3QX (RF)
  6. Diono Radian 3QX (FF)
  7. Diono Radian 3QXT (RF)
  8. Diono Radian 3QXT (FF)
  9. Graco Milestone (RF)
  10. Graco Milestone (FF)
  11. Graco Nautilus 65 (FF)
  12. Graco Nautilus 65 (B)
  13. Nuna Exec (RF)
  14. Nuna Exec (FF)
  15. Nuna Exec (B)
  16. Safety 1st Grand 2-in-1 (FF)
  17. Safety 1st Jive 2-in-1 (FF)
  18. Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air (FF)
  19. Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air (B)
  20. UPPAbaby Alta
  21. Cosco Scenera Next (RF)
  22. Cosco Scenera Next (FF)
  23. Hiccapop Uberboost
  24. Baby Trend Cover Me (RF)
  25. Baby Trend Cover Me (B)
  26. Baby Trend Hybrid 3-in-1 (FF)
  27. Britax Grow With You (B)
  28. Clek Liingo
  29. Cosco Apt50 (RF)
  30. Cosco Apt50 (FF)
  31. Cosco Light ‘N Comfy DX
  32. Evenflo EveryFit (B)
  33. Graco Backless Turbobooster

2-star rated car seats:

Only 4 car seats out of the 92(about 0.2%) were rated 2 stars. Below are the brands;

  1. Safety 1st Grand 2-in-1 (B)
  2. Safety 1st Jive 2-in-1 (RF)
  3. Evenflo SureRide 65 (RF)
  4. Evenflo SureRide 65 (FF)

1-star car seats:

2 car seats by Diono achieved the lowest score for ease of use. Below are the 2 evaluated brands;

  1. Diono Radian 3QX (B)
  2. Diono Radian 3QXT (B)

Additional resources:

Final word:

I hope this analysis of 5-star and 4-star rated car seats by NHTSA was helpful in providing you with a comprehensive overview of what to look for when choosing a car seat for your child. By examining the distribution of overall ratings and delving into the specific ease of use ranking factors—labels usability, manual usability, securing the child, and installation in the vehicle—we aimed to highlight the aspects that contribute to a car seat’s effectiveness and user satisfaction.

This insight into the detailed evaluation criteria used by the NHTSA to assess car seats underscores the importance of not just safety features, but also the ease with which these features can be correctly utilized by caregivers. Whether you prioritize manual clarity, label information, ease of securing your child, or straightforward installation, understanding these factors can guide you towards making an informed decision that ensures both the safety and comfort of your child during travel.

Remember, a higher ease of use rating often translates to a higher likelihood of correct, consistent use of the car seat, thereby enhancing the overall safety of your child on the road.