(MS) — For years, the LATCH system standard for vehicles has been the preferred method of safely securing infant and child safety seats into a car. But the LATCH system many parents have grown accustomed to is changing. A new law says it is safer to stop using LATCH with car seats that cater to older, heavier kids.
LATCH, which is an acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is a system of restraints built directly into the seats and frames of vehicles. The LATCH system was introduced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a new child restraint securement system in 1999 in response to the challenges posed with seatbelt installation of child safety seats.
The system has been available in many vehicle models since 2000. With LATCH, the child safety seat attaches to two anchors imbedded in the seats of the car as well as another anchor point located on the rear shelf, seat back, cargo area, or ceiling of the vehicle when used with forward-facing seats. Many safety seats come equipped with LATCH straps that are compatible to the LATCH system in the vehicle.
While the LATCH system has helped maintain the safety of young passengers for more than 10 years, newer safety seats that accommodate larger children could be pushing the LATCH system boundaries. Lower anchors of the LATCH system take the majority of the force in a crash, and many are currently rated to restrain a seat and child with a combined weight of 65 pounds. There is not yet significant evidence to suggest the anchors will hold up in a crash with a heavier seat/child combo. When the LATCH system was developed, many child safety seats maxed out at a 30-pound passenger limit.
Various health and safety organizations have deemed it safer to keep children in harnessed safety seats longer before moving them to belted booster seats, which has propelled the industry to develop seats that can hold older, heavier children. However, whether the LATCH system can handle the larger seats is largely unknown.
As a result, drivers who have a child and a car seat that together weigh more than 65 pounds are urged to stop using the LATCH system to secure the safety seat into the car and rely on the vehicle's seat belts instead. The new law was put into effect in the United States in February 2014 and may be adopted elsewhere as time goes on.
Using the car's seat belts may require a refresher course in safety and how to route the belts properly. Refer to your vehicle owner's manual as well as the instruction guide provided with the child safety seat. Seat belts will need to be fully extended and "locked" before they can be routed through the safety seat. Drivers are advised to still use the top tether of the LATCH system to further secure the head of the safety seat.
Drivers unsure about regulations can consult with their pediatricians and have child safety seat installation checked at various police stations, fire stations and first aid buildings.
Parents and other caregivers need to stay abreast of changes in safety guidelines for their children, as recommendations for child safety seats are always evolving.