In early 2014, a new amendment to a law stating that the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) Restraint System should not be used when the combined weight of the child and car seat is more than 65 pounds will go into effect. LATCH systems have been required in cars since 2001, and have been effective in preventing injury to children, but the strength of the anchors cannot be guaranteed when the 65-pound limit has been exceeded by the joint weight of the car seat and child.
LATCH-equipped vehicles have at least two sets of small bars, called anchors, located in the back seat where the seat cushions meet. LATCH-equipped Child Restraint Systems (CRSs) have a lower set of attachments that fasten to these vehicle lower anchors. Most forward-facing CRSs also have a top strap (upper tether) that attaches to a top or upper anchor in the vehicle. Together, they make up the LATCH system. LATCH was designed to make child seats safer and easier to install.
But usually weighing between 15 to 33 pounds, some child seats are heavy enough on their own to prevent children as light as 32 pounds from using the LATCH system. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that until the age of 8, children should remain in harness (including 5 point harness or booster with seatbelt), prompting car seat manufacturers to begin developing child seats with higher weight limits.
The current anchor requirements have been criticized by Joseph Colella, one of the five child-safety advocates who petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to complete the rule change. He and other advocates have found that the lower anchor weight requirements are based on older model child seats and the recommendations of how long children should be in child seats are outdated.
Another advocate of amending the law was the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which sought the rule change after studies found that weight limits did not take into account how much the child seats weigh.
However, usage and awareness of the LATCH system is already low. A study performed by Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization that has become an authority on unintentional childhood injury prevention, discovered that most people are using the lower anchors only around 30 percent of the time. The top tether straps, designed to prevent head injuries among children, were also only used in about 30 percent of vehicles.
“Disconnecting tethers when their use is needed … could lead to a tragedy,” Stephanie Tombrello of advocacy group SafetyBeltSafe told USA Today.
To ensure you are meeting current guidelines with child seat regulations, first weigh your child, then weigh the child safety seat, then add the two weights together. If the weight of the child and child seat together exceeds 65 pounds, start using a seat belt restraint instead of the LATCH system until you find an updated child seat supporting the combined weight.
“While LATCH makes it easier to properly install car seats in vehicles, it’s important for parents and caregivers to know that securing a child seat with a seat belt is equally as safe — and that they have the flexibility to use either system,” says Transportation Department spokeswoman Lynda Tran.
The NHTSA reports child safety seats, or child restraint systems (CRS) are the most effective way to protect babies and young children in the event of an automobile accident. Statistics show that when child safety seats are properly installed and used, they reduce the chance of serious injury or death in a vehicle crash by as much as 71 percent. But these restraints cannot work if they are not installed properly. Sadly, three out of every four child restraints are not properly used.
Every year, thousands of children are tragically injured or killed in automobile crashes. For children ages 3-6, and 8-14, it is the leading cause of death. It is impossible to overstate the toll this takes on families. All 50 states and the District of Columbia and our territories have laws requiring the use of safety seats, booster seats and seat belts for children traveling in motor vehicles.