Friday, June 12, 2009

Let's Talk LATCH

I know....I know...I totally dropped the ball on the child safety seat posts I promised. I have no excuse other than the fact that I put off doing posts that take a ton of brain power. I only have so much smarts....and I don't like to use them all up at once. (wink...wink)

I'd like to appologize in advance for the icky font color, and the screwed up spacing. I'm having issues with the blogger editor today. Sorry!


Today, I'd like to address a little something called LATCH. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. It's also known as ISOFIX in Europe and LUAS (Lower Universal Anchorage System) in Canada.

LATCH is an installation system created to help standardize the way child restraints are attached to vehicles without using a seat belt. The traditional method of attaching child safety seats with seat belts was prone to misuse such as a loose fit or incorrect routing. The LATCH system has components on both the child safety seat and the vehicle. The vehicle components are:


Lower Anchors:

These are a pair of metal "u-shaped" bars hidden in the vehicle's seat crack.

Tether Anchors:

These are metal rings, found behind each rear vehicle seat. Upper tethers for child safety seats reduce the tilting or rotation of the seat during a frontal crash, because they provide a second attachment of the seat to the vehicle, when used with a seat belt or lower anchors.

Vehicles model year 2003 and newer must have lower anchors in at least TWO positions and tether anchors in at least THREE positions. This means that in most vehicles, the side seats have lower anchors AND top tether anchors, while the center seat has a tether anchor but NO lower anchors.

It is IMPORTANT to note that Lower anchors are used INSTEAD of the vehicle's safety belt to secure the child seat to the vehicle. Tethers are used IN ADDITION to the lower anchors OR the vehicle's safety belt to secure a forward-facing child safety seat to the vehicle.

To make sure you are properly using your LATCH system be sure to thoroughly read the safety seat instruction manual, and your vehicle owner's manual. It is also recommended that you contact a Car Seat Technician in your local area for a check up. 3 our of 4 car seats are not installed properly.

My main purpose behind today's post is to bring to light something that not nearly enough parents know about LATCH. I have been a Certified Child Passenger Technician for 11 years now, and I have to admit that I was taken aback by what I'm about to tell you, and to be completely honest, I am horrified, and more than a bit confused as to what I should do, as a parent of a young child.

The subject at hand is LATCH WEIGHT LIMITS!

We much always look at this issue separately for the Lower Anchors...and the Tether Anchor.

Lower Anchors:

It is not widely known that there is no agreement between VEHICLE and CHILD SAFETY SEAT manufacturers as to the weight limit for lower anchors. If the child safety seat manufacturer's instructions, AND the vehicle owners manual do not discuss the issue, it is best to stop using the lower anchors after the child is 40 pounds. In this case, you should use the vehicle safety belt instead of the lower anchors to secure the child safety seat to the vehicle.

Since the lower anchors bear the brunt of the force in a crash, concern for their weight limit is especially important. They are designed to restrain the weight of a child safety seat plus the weight of a small child. The vehicle's safety belt, which is stronger because it is designed to restrain large adults, is a good substitute for the lower anchors when securing a child safety seat used by a heavier child.

That alone may come as a surprise to many of you, but has an easy enough fix. Just start using the vehicle's seat belt to install the car seat. It can sometimes be more difficult to install properly, but you can get local help with that.


Now the Tether Anchors are a different story all together.

Tether Anchors:

Again, there is no agreement between VEHICLE and CHILD SAFETY SEAT manufacturers as to the weight limit for tether anchors. Certain vehicle manufacturers have stated a tether anchor weight limit; to find out check you vehicle owner's manual. In cases where the vehicle owner's manual does not specify a maximum tether weight limit, assume the upper limit is 40 pounds.

Following this 40 pound limit is very problematic, though, since many child safety seats sold specifically for children over 40 pounds REQUIRE the use of a tether. Yes, REQUIRE! Let's take my Britax Decathlon. It has a forward facing, 5 point harness capacity of 65 lbs. (excellent!) HOWEVER, for proper installation I MUST attach the Top Tether. I drive a Chevy Crew Cab. It's vehicle owner's manual does not specify a weight limit for the Tether Anchor, SO I must assume that it is around 40 lbs. (no fabulous!)

What does this mean? Well, it basically means that I now have to decide, if my child who is very nearly 40 lbs, is safer in the Decathlon installed with the vehicle seat belt, and the top tether (which is likely to break in the even of a crash, and who knows how the car seat will perform when that happens) OR safer in a Belt Positioning booster with the vehicle's seat belt?

Studies have truly shown that 5-point harnessing for as long as possible is best practice, but that is assuming that the top tether is doing it's job. When crash tested, the safety seats are installed on a crash sled using a tether anchor point that could hold an elephant. Ummmmm nice. Then we put the same safety seat in our vehicle that has a tether anchor point that holds barbie. NOT nice!

I am so very angry that vehicle manufacturers have NOT put our children's safety first. They have done NOTHING to increase this ANCHOR weight limit issue. Then....THEN...the safety seat manufacturers are selling EXPENSIVE car seats, claiming they can be used with the 5- point harness as high as 65-100 lbs. Parents are snapping these puppies up....and now we are learning it is a gamble to use them? How sick is that?

I wish I had the answer folks. I simply do not. The consensus is that "many in the child passenger safety field believe that the risks of NOT using the tether FAR OUTWEIGH the risks of the tether not holding in a crash. Many of us would recommend using the tether no matter how much the child weighs." BUT this really doesn't tell us if we should choose to use the upper weight limit car seat over the Belt Positioning Booster. Sigh........

It is my hope and prayer that the VEHICLE and CHILD SAFETY SEAT manufacturers get it together....and put the safety of children in vehicles FIRST. Don't even get me started on the inadequacy of crash testing. I don't know about you, but I'd sort of like to see them caring how their products perform in crashes that exceed 30 mph, since ummmmm we drive faster than that EVERY.SINGLE.DAY!

5 Live It or Love It:

Autumn said...

Do you hear that noise? Oh that's just me banging my head against a wall! Bug outgrew the limits of his five point harness earlier this year. The seats that we have both turn into belt positioning boosters up to 65lbs. One has the Tether and one does not. We use the one that does in my car with the tether, using the seat belt. The one that doesn't we use in hubbys car because it's older and doesn't have the the hook thing. So am I reading that I'm messing up because I have the seat tethered but Bug is using the seat belt with the positioner? I just assumed the more anchored it was the better! I had a hard enough time giving up the harness...

amikins said...

So glad you wrote all this! Its good we have you to look into this, I would have never thought about the wt limit on the tether point. You rock. Now fix it!

Jo Beaufoix said...

Hon this is a great post. I worry so much about this as Miss M is fairly long but only weighs 34lbs so is too tall for some seats but not really heavy enough for others. I know anything is better than nothing but I know if you get it wrong it can cause neck and back injuries. When I get my car (hopefully soon) I need to buy seats again and I'll definitely be getting some advice.

Christina said...

Thanks for the time and effort you put into this post, Corey. Oh my, so much to think about!! I think I am going to schedule and appointmetn with a car seat specialist just to make sure my girl is protected correctly!

Carver said...

This is an excellent post about an important issue. Interestingly enough, it is parallel to the photohunt theme this week which is lock.

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