In 2002, regulations went into effect requiring car manufacturers to be equipped with the LATCH system for child car seats. LATCH, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, systems were intended to help parents and caregivers install car seats easily and safely. New rules that go into effect in February 2014 are changing the weight limits for the use of this system in vehicles.
What is LATCH?
LATCH is a system of anchors and straps used by car manufacturers and car seat makers to help parents and caregivers install child safety seats easily, correctly and safely into cars. The system is designed to use lower anchors in the backseat of cars and a tether at the top of the car seat which connects to the back of the seat or a roof anchor in the car to securely place a car seat. While the LATCH system has been available in cars since 2002, a recent study (hyperlink) found that only about 30% of car seats are installed using the LATCH system.
Is LATCH safer than using a seat belt?
Not according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Using the car’s seat belt to install your child safety seat is just as effective as using the LATCH system, as long as it is properly installed. The LATCH system was designed to help parents and caregivers easily and correctly install child safety seats into their vehicles with the use of the lower anchors and tether.
NHTSA now recommends, as long as your vehicle’s manufacturer does not advise against it, that parents use the upper tether on car seats regardless of whether they use the LATCH system or seat belt for installation. The tether is designed to help prevent head trauma to a child in the event of a crash.
What is changing?
NHTSA is changing its rules and recommendations for use of the LATCH system. Effective February 2014, the NHTSA is recommending that parents NOT use the LATCH system’s lower anchors if the combined weight of the child and car seat is 65 pounds or more. There is concern that the lower anchors could be overloaded and not work properly if the combined weight of the child and seat exceeds 65 pounds.
This is a change from previous recommendations for use of the LATCH system which only took into account the weight of the child. Now, parents are to consider the weight of the car seat as well. This is a significant change because some car seats weight as much as 30 pounds.
This change in the NHTSA’s recommendation does not come without controversy. Many advocates of the change say that it is necessary because previously the weight of the car seat was taken into account in determining weight limits for use of the lower anchors. This change ensures that the weight of the child and seat are accounted for in determining the stress that would be placed on the lower anchors in a crash.
Others though say the NHTSA should delay this change in the rules until there is additional evidence that the anchors will not hold. And, even then those against the change in the rule say that instead of changing the weight limit on the use of the LATCH system’s lower anchors, that car manufacturers should increase the stability and strength of the lower anchors to account for the increase in weight.
The End Result
Studies by the NHTSA have found that use of a child safety seat can reduce the risk of death from a crash for infants by 71% and for toddlers by 54%. So, whether you choose to use the LATCH system or your car’s seat belt to install your child’s car seat, please always read the car seat and car manufacturer’s manuals to ensure proper installation. You can seek out certified technicians in your area to advise if you have properly installed your car seat. Go to http://www.nhtsa.gov/apps/cps/index.htm to find a local inspection station.