New Rule for Car Seat LATCH System in 2014
Many parents of small children who were aware of the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) presumed that it increased the protection provided by a child safety restraint during a car accident. While the system did provide easier installation of a child car seat, federal regulators have now determined that the car seat system is not safer in certain situations, so parents will be warned not to use the bottom anchors of the LATCH system beginning in 2014.
The LATCH system is compromised of the top tether (strap) which may be used with lower anchors or a seat belt to provide a better fit for car seats in many vehicles. The LATCH system was installed in vehicles beginning in 2001 to provide an easier system to fasten car seats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had conducted a number of studies and found that because of difficulty in installing car seats and the lack of compatibility between car seats, vehicle seats and seat belt configurations many parents were not securing their child seats properly. Since car seats were not being installed correctly, the LATCH system was designed to make installation of car seats easier for parents. The top tether on the LATCH system can be used with either a seat belt or the two bottom anchors which may be located between the cushions in the car seat or on the floor.
However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has changed the rule requiring use of the LATCH system effective in 2014 because of new evidence from seat belt safety experts. When the requirements for the LATCH system were developed, the weight of the car seat was not considered so there is a risk that the bottom latches will not hold when the combined weight of the car seat and child is 65 pounds or more. Because the typical car seat weighs between 15-33 pounds, this means that the strength of the anchors may become suspect with a child as light as 32 pounds.
The faulty anchors are based on outdated car seat designs and recommendations on how long kids should continue using a child safety seat. Because the weight of the car seats was not taken into consideration, advocates for the auto industry indicated that they could not assure the safety of the lower anchors with heavier children. The new rule that requires using a seat belt instead of the lower anchors may not change the installation process for many parents. While the top tether of the LATCH system was supposed to be used with all front facing and convertible car seats, parents had the option to use either the lower anchors or a seat belt. Presumably, many parents used seat belts instead of the lower anchors.
This assumption is reinforced by the fact that many parents were unaware of the LATCH system even though it has been a standard feature in most vehicles for more than a decade. A study using checkpoints conducted by the Safe Kids Worldwide revealed that only thirty percent of parents use the top tether to prevent head injuries in car accidents, and only thirty percent use the bottom latches.
The LATCH system was adopted in the wake of the death of a 3-year-old who died in a fatal car crash involving a child seat that did not fit properly in the vehicle. The LATCH system was designed to address these compatibility issues and make it easier for parents to properly install child car seats. There has been no change in the recommendation that the top tether be used to prevent serious head injuries in car accidents.
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