Greensboro, N.C. -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) is updating the rules and regulations for child safety seats. The changes relate to the use of the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system.
Today's car seats are often heavier than they were years ago. Heavy duty materials like steel add weight to the seats. In addition, the average weight of children is also increasing. As a result, the NTHSA will adjust guidelines for using the LATCH system in 2014.
However, parents today will likely want to start making changes now.
The LATCH system in cars is designed to accomodate a a combined weight (child and car seat) of 65 pounds. Child seats can weigh anywhere from 15 to 33 pounds. When you do the math, it's not tough for the combined weight of the child and the car seat to exceed that 65 pound weight. That's why the NTHSA is recommending parents switch back to the safety belt when that weight is reached.
However, safety experts DO NOT recommend using both the LATCH system and the safety belt together. The reason? Researchers have only studied the safety of using one system or the other, not both together.
Official Statement from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is committed to protecting the safety of children in and around motor vehicles, and the agency believes that the safest way for parents and caregivers to transport their children in passenger vehicles is to make certain they use the appropriate car seat or booster for their child's size and age - and ensure the seat is properly installed. While LATCH makes it easier to properly install car seats in vehicles, it's important for parents and caregivers to know that securing a child with a seat belt is equally as safe - and that they have the flexibility to use either system.
With an increasing number of forward-facing child seats now on the market that accommodate children up to greater weights, parents may choose to use a seat belt to secure a child seat because the child has exceeded the LATCH weight limits for the seat. Other parents with older vehicles that aren't equipped with the LATCH system may also need to use a seat belt to secure their child seat. Finally, parents with vehicles that include the LATCH system but do not have anchors to accommodate child seats in the rear center seating position may use a seat belt to secure a child seat because they prefer to secure their child in that location.
NHTSA currently has a research program underway to examine a number of issues raised by consumer and safety groups - including LATCH use in the rear center seat, ways to improve tether anchorages, and the need to better educate consumers about LATCH use with heavier children.
The new FMVSS 213 rule (to take effect on February 27, 2014; but early compliance is allowed) will require a label on car seats with internal harnesses that indicates the maximum child weight for using lower LATCH anchors to secure the car seat in a vehicle. The purpose of this label is to reduce consumer confusion about using lower LATCH anchors and to ensure that forces generated by the child and car seat in most crash conditions do not exceed the lower anchors design limits. The new rule did not put a limit on the child weight for the use of the top tether. NHTSA is evaluating comments that requested it reconsider the weight limit on the label. However, the agency expects the label would clarify instructions without affecting use of LATCH for the majority of 3-7 year old children using child seats.
Currently, most car seat manufacturers recommend LATCH use for children weighing up to 40 pounds and the use of seat belts to install car seats with internal harnesses to restrain children weighing more than 40 pounds. Securing a child with either system is equally safe.
Most car seats weigh about 12 to 20 pounds. Taking that seat weight into account, the new label would specify a maximum child weight between 45 to 53 pounds for using lower LATCH anchors-this range does not exclude the use of LATCH for the majority of 3-7 year old children restrained in car seats with internal harnesses. (For context, a child weight of 45 pounds corresponds to a 95th percentile 4-year old, 75th percentile 5 year old, 50th percentile 6 year old, and 25th percentile 7 year old. A child weight of 53 pounds corresponds to a 95th percentile 5 year old, 85th percentile 6 year old, and 50th percentile 7 year old.)
WFMY News 2