COMMENTARY | If you have installed a car seat in the last 12 years, you have likely taken advantage of the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. The LATCH system is a set of anchors located directly inside your seat’s base. Newer car seats allow you to simply thread through an included car seat belt and attach it to those latches (pictured above).
What many parents fail to realize is that the LATCH system has come under fire by various parenting and child safety groups over the last several years.
In 2001, the LATCH system was federally required to hold a child and car seat with a combined weight of 65 pounds. The law requires that car seat manufacturers make parents aware of those weight guidelines.
The problem is that many parents do not realize that their child’s car seat can weigh upwards of 15 to 33 pounds. That means a child weighing only 32 pounds can push the threshold of the LATCH system.
Unfortunately, many car seat manufacturers do not clearly label the constraints of their car seats and the LATCH system, instead focusing on a child’s age and height alongside weight requirements. The confusing mess of car seat requirements often leaves parents unaware that they are violating the car seats safety capabilities.
While the federal government acknowledged the problem way back in early 2012, they decided not to federally regulate car seat warnings until early 2014. The ruling suggests that car seat manufacturers need time to warn customers, although a simple sticker on the side of boxes could handle that warning much more quickly.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sought the change in federal law, claiming that car manufactures couldn’t guarantee the safety of heavier kids. In the meantime, child safety advocates have long questioned why the latch system isn’t redesigned to support more weight.
The biggest problem is the complete lack of awareness to the problem.
A study reported on by USA Today in June of 2012 found that 30 percent of parents use the top tether straps to secure their car seats, even though the top tether straps are more adept at preventing head injury. The study found that parents continue to use the LATCH system well after the weight limit for their child and car seat combined has been breached.
Misinformation also appears to be causing mounting issues. For example, a quick Google search for “LATCH system” brought me to The Car Seat Lady website. Under the website LATCH system information page, it reads:
“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, the vehicle owners manual, or this table 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.”
Based on 2012’s new guidelines, a car seat weighing 33 pounds would invalidate the Car Seat Lady’s recommendation of 40 pounds. This isn’t the fault of the website but instead, as she states, a result of arguments over weight limits between car manufacturers and federal regulators.
The one area that all experts have agreed upon is that, regardless of the system used, a car seat must be properly installed and checked for loose harnesses on a regular basis.
Unlike health care mandates and other laws that take time to enact, it seems ridiculous that this new mandate will go into effect nearly two years after the issue was raised.
When the new law does go into affect, parents with children ages 3 and up will be warned against using the LATCH system. Once again, the “age” requirement could take attention away from the weight requirement, which is where LATCH system focus should be placed.