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Updated Car Seat Guidelines Will Save Lives

Car seat safety has evolved considerably over the last few decades. Child safety seats are safer now than ever before, but unfortunately, every year children are still killed or seriously hurt in motor vehicle crashes. In many cases, these tragic outcomes are the result of children either riding in inappropriate safety seats or being improperly secured in the car.

Every vehicle manufactured since 2002 has come equipped with the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. The LATCH system consists of frame-mounted brackets that allow child safety seats to be securely attached to the vehicle without using seat belts. Given that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA) estimates that as many as three out of four parents install child seats incorrectly, the LATCH system was designed to standardize installation and increase the likelihood of correct positioning.

Following standardization of the LATCH system, the number of deaths and injuries attributable to improper car seat installation has decreased. Flaws in the system and the guidelines for proper usage, however, have led to important changes all parents need to know.

Changes to LATCH System Guidelines

In January 2014, the NHTSA revised its guidelines regarding the LATCH system for car seats. Previously, LATCH was recommended for children who weigh up to 70 pounds. Additional testing using a 77-pound test dummy (the size of an average 10-year-old) revealed the system would be overloaded by a heavier child, so the NHTSA revised the guidelines to reduce the maximum weight of children secured by LATCH.

According to the new guidelines, which go into effect in February 2014, LATCH should only be used when the combined weight of the child and the safety seat does not exceed 65 pounds. Parents are encouraged to use alternative restraint systems for their heavier children, such as high-back booster seats, that allow for the use of a vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt.

The new LATCH guidelines also affect the labeling of new child safety seats. Car seat labels currently list the maximum height and weight of the passenger, as well as the expiration date. Beginning in February 2014, car seat manufacturers will be required to account for the weight of the seat when determining maximum weight capacity. Parents using older seats should refer to the user’s manual to determine the weight of the seat, and subtract that number from the listed weight capacity to determine whether their child is too heavy for the seat and the LATCH system.

Additional Car Seat Guidelines

The changes to LATCH system guidelines are not the only measures the NHTSA enacted to improve car seat safety. The agency is also recommending additional side-impact crash tests for car seats, so parents can more effectively evaluate their car seat options. The new tests will measure the effects on children ages 3 months and 12 months riding in car seats. Officials estimate improving protection in side-impact crashes will save as many as five lives and prevent 64 injuries a year.

Protecting children from serious injury or death is of paramount importance to parents. Following the guidelines for proper car seat installation and use will help prevent your family from experiencing a tragedy.