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4 concerns with the new LATCH car seat rule

May 23, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

New LATCH car seat rule changes the way your kids must be secured

A new federal car seat change went into effect in February 2014 regarding the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children).  I’m still getting many questions from concerned parents who want to know whether they’re securing their children correctly in their car seats.

Now, the new LATCH car seat rule

The new recommendation states that LATCH should no longer be used when the child and car seat combined weight is over 65 pounds. The LATCH system was designed to make child seats easier to install and eliminate seatbelt incompatibilities.

This is an amendment to the original law that recommends that all children up to 65 pounds remain in car seats and boosters, but that didn’t take into account the weight of car seats. According to published reports, auto makers can’t guarantee the strength of the anchors when adding the additional weight of the seat.

Child seats typically weigh 15 to 33 pounds. So the new LATCH car seat rule means some children as light as 32 pounds might not be able to use the LATCH system. Once children exceed this weight, the seat must be installed using the vehicle seat belt, not LATCH.

For information on how to be sure you’re meeting the 2014 car seat guidelines, take a look at my blog post, “Attention all parents: Important new car seat law for 2014.”

While LATCH is the law and the preferred method of car seat installation according to studies and crash tests, Consumer Reports  published an article sharing its concerns with the system: “What parents need to know about the new LATCH car seat rule.”

I’ve summarized the concerns from Consumer Reports below:

  1. Stronger anchors are needed to protect children: The new law was implemented because the weight of the child seat was not being considered in the strength limit of the LATCH anchors – a move that seems to protect automakers, especially as children and car seats tend to weigh more now than when the original standard was created. This puts increased strain on the anchors. Improved labeling is beneficial,  but regulation that protects children by strengthening the anchors is what’s really needed.
  2. LATCH could be stronger for longer use: Consumer Reports’ fit-to-vehicle and crash testing data shows that LATCH should be considered as the preferred method of car seat installation, as it makes it easier to achieve a secure installation and results in less forward-movement in a crash compared to seat belts. But a standard requiring the lower anchors be designed to a higher strength so LATCH could be used longer would make LATCH even safer.
  3. Parents may transition to a booster seat prematurely: Labels for car seats exceeding 33 pounds will now indicate that a child as light as 32 pounds (which could be as young as 2-years old) may not be able to use a child restraint installed with the LATCH system. Due to seat-belt incompatibility, this may discourage parents from keeping their kids in a harnessed seat longer, and they may prematurely transition to an easier to install booster seat. This is a step down in safety. There’s also the potential for more improperly installed car seats, as studies have shown incorrect installation is more common when using a seat belt.
  4. Confusion with non-use tethers: The new LATCH rule only affects the lower anchors, not the top tether, so it does nothing to address the confusion and non-use of tethers.  Consumer Reports advises to always use the top tether for forward-facing seats, regardless of whether they are installed using the belts or LATCH to help limit forward motion of the seat and child in a sudden stop or crash.

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