There are a lot of articles going around lately in regard to changes in LATCH regulations. Some contain incomplete or inaccurate information.
The gist is when the weight of the car seat + the weight of the child is 65 lbs or more, the car seat must be installed using the vehicle’s seat belt. It has been argued that the Lower Anchors (the pair of metal bars in the vehicle’s seat crack) of the LATCH system could possibly fail at higher weights. Whereas vehicle seat belts can hold very large adults, comparatively a lot heavier than 65 lbs., and are tested to withstand at least 6,000 pounds of crash force. Which may make some ask why did LATCH even became available much less required then? I’ll answer the question about LATCH’s intent in a minute.
Some of the articles are stating the weight limitations are new and are law.
First the new part.
When I became a Child Passenger Safety Tech 10 years ago, I was taught that parents weren’t to use LATCH if the child weighed 65 lbs. or more. Parents were then to install the seat with the seat belt. So the only “new” part is that the regulated LATCH weight limits include the weight of the child restraint) and that it is across all makes and models of vehicles. This change does not necessarily effect the use of the tether. Tether weight limitations still varies depending on the vehicle manufacturer.
Of course back when I was trained, there were few 5-point harness seats for a child over 40 pounds and most car seats weighed well under 20 pounds. Today, many 5-point harness car seats accommodate heavier children with some fitting children up to 90 pounds. Car seats are heavier too —most weigh 20-25 pounds (even up to 36 pounds).
Second the law part.
This will be a major amendment to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 (the safety standard that applies to car seats and boosters sold in the US) that is likely to go into effect February 2014. However, it is NOT definite that the amendment will go through. Car seat manufacturers are trying to get the lower anchor weight limit part of the ruling rescinded. So check back in February to see if it actually went into effect.
In the meantime, what does the amendment say and how does it change the way you install your seat?
The amendment states that there be a weight limit on the lower anchor points in a vehicle’s LATCH system of 65 pounds (total weight of child + seat). And every car seat will have a label letting the parent know the maximum weight of the child for which the lower anchors can be used after having taken into account the weight of their seat. This makes it easy for the parent so they don’t have to weigh both and do the math. Yay for ease!
Until the amendment goes into effect, if it does, you need to be aware of what your vehicle manufacturer states and what your car seat manufacturer says for the seat you currently have to determine the lower anchor weight limits. Most vehicle manufacturers have already adopted this combined weight limit for lower anchors. You may have to check with the vehicle manufacturer’s customer service to see if they made changes in regard to the lower anchor points which may differ from what is in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
If the vehicle manufacturer does say there is a weight limit, then when the weight of the car seat + the weight of the child is 65 lbs. or more, install the car seat with the vehicle’s seat belt.
To be safe, can you just use both the LATCH and seat belt?
No! (Except in certain cases, there’s always an exception to the rule, right?) So in general, NO! Car seat manufacturers state not to do this. Trust them, they did the crash tests after all. Typically using both could change the “ride down” of the seat. Meaning there is meant to be some give in the installation of the car seat to allow it to ride down the crash and take the crash force onto the seat. If the seat is installed too tightly, as could be the case if you use both LATCH and the seat belt, then the crash force that the car seat is supposed to take could be transferred to the child inside the car seat.
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There are two seats that currently allow you to use the lower anchors and seat belt, the Clek Foonf (a convertible seat) and the Nuna Pipa (an infant seat). Both have rigid lower anchor connectors which hook to the vehicle’s lower anchor points and can be used along with the vehicle’s seat belt and when used with the seat belt effectively negates the lower anchor weight limit issue.
And no, one is not better than the other. (Here’s where I answer that question you asked earlier about LATCH’s intent…) LATCH was invented in an effort to make car seat installations easier for parents (in some ways I think the intent back fired, but that’s my personal opinion after seeing some creative LATCH installations and since the rate of misuse is still 85% or so). A LATCH install and seat belt install (assuming both are installed correctly) are just as safe.
If you are using a booster seat with LATCH (there are a few) you can use both the seat belt and LATCH and as the seat belt is the primary restraint holding the child in the event of a crash, the lower anchor weight limits do not apply.
Where is this all coming from?
There has been some concern that the lower anchors in the vehicle are not strong enough to hold heavier kids in some crashes. The weight of heavier children and heavier car seats could put additional stress on the lower anchors and cause them to break. There are currently no reported cases of this actually happening as of yet in real world crashes so it is currently purely a theory.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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