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LATCH System For Car Seats Comes With A Warning

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by Heidi Hauser Green
February 19, 2013

It is hard to imagine any piece of equipment that vexes parents more than the child safety seat. From the “buckets” of infancy through the “harness boosters” of toddlerhood and into the “booster seats” of the school years, these contraptions continue to perplex and befuddle us. The wide range of car seat manufacturers’ specifications and weight allowances only adds to the confusion, as do changing recommendations. (Remember being told “rear-facing until the first birthday”? Now the recommendation is rear-facing until two years of ageminimum.)

But as irksome as car seat rules and regulations may be, adhering to them saves lives. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in children ages 3 to 14 years. Proper use of child safety seats reduces the risk of death for infants by 71 percent and for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years by 54 percent.

In spite of attention to child safety seat use, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that up to 80 percent of seats are installed or used incorrectly. To address this problem, car manufacturers have been required since 2002 to provide LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) anchors in their cars. Securing the hooks on the child’s seat to the metal anchors in their car is supposed to make it easier for parents and caregivers to correctly install the seats and increase their child’s safety. Traditional wisdom to date has been, if your vehicle has a LATCH system, use it.

However, a new regulation passed by the NHTSA seeks to clarify the use of the LATCH system. Now we are told that LATCH should not be used in all cases; starting next year, car seat manufacturers will be required to explicitly warn parents not to use LATCH when the combined weight of the child and the safety seat exceed certain limits.

Specifically, LATCH anchors are reliable only up to 65 pounds of weight—and that’s combined weight. In other words, if your child plus his car seat totals 65 pounds or more, do not use the LATCH system.

If your child and his car seat exceed this limit, you’ll want to use the vehicle’s safety belts to hold the base of the seat in place. Given the heavy style of many toddler seats, as well as changes in child safety recommendations over the past decade that encourage parents to keep their children in boosters longer (until about 4’9” in height and between 8 and 12 years of age), most parents will need to keep this regulation firmly in mind.

To figure out whether your child’s car seat can be used with the LATCH system, first check the manual. (If you have lost your paper copy, you should be able to find the manual online; simply Google the car-seat manufacturer and model name.) Most car-seat manufacturers include a specifications table within the first couple of pages of the product manual, and this typically includes information about the car seat’s weight. (If not, then step on a scale twice—first while holding the seat and then by yourself. Subtract your weight alone from your weight with the seat to calculate its approximate weight.)

Next, weigh your child. Add the weight of the seat to your child’s weight. If the total is 65 pounds or more, don’t use the LATCH anchors. Check the car seat manual for instructions about installing the seat using your vehicle’s safety belts.

The NHTSA isn’t requiring car-seat manufacturers to be explicit about the 65-pound limitation sooner than next year, but that doesn’t mean parents can’t make informed decisions based on this information now. Check your child’s seats, and spread the word amongst your family, friends, and colleagues.

For more information about car seat safety, see baby gooroo’s all-inclusive guide.

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