Currently, rules are in place that require a latch system for child car seats. The word “latch” means lower anchors and tethers. The latch system rule was federally mandated in 2002, and required all new vehicles to have anchor points between cushions so that child car seats would be secured by them instead of seat belts.
Now an amendment to the 2014 federal motor vehicle safety standards is being considered which would require that a child car seat be secured by a seat belt and top tether system if the weight of both the child and the seat are over 65 pounds.
Child car seats were lighter in 2002 when the latch system rule was put in place, and only younger children were required to use them. Now there are child car seats that can hold children weighing up to 90 pounds. As a result, it’s questionable whether anchors can hold the weight of both the child and the seat. Advocates backing the proposed amendment want the seats to be clearly marked with the maximum amount of weight.
To date there have been no reported incidents of the latch system failing due to heavier weight. However, safety advocates don’t want to take any chances. Alisa Baer, a pediatrician and childcare car safety expert known as “The Car Seat Lady” said, “We don’t want to find out the hard way that the lower anchors aren’t strong enough.”
Each state has its own child car seat laws, and they can vary greatly. For example, in Florida, children are only required to be in a car seat or booster until age 3. In Wyoming and Tennessee, children must wear them until age 8.
The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association represents child-restraint manufacturers. The organization has urged the National Highway Traffic Administration to suspend the 2014 seat labeling requirement. Its argument is that the new rule would cause confusion about how to install seats correctly. It also claims that a better alternative would be to increase allowable weight of the lower anchors.
The argument that the change may be confusing may have little validity in light of a study done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published in 2012. The study was conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, and tested parents’ ability to properly install child car seats using the latch system. Surprisingly, only 13% of these parents could install the car seats correctly.
If the new regulations take effect in 2014, it doesn’t mean that parents will have to buy new child car seats, as the ones with the latch system can be attached using a seat belt as well. But the rule is the most stringent one since 2011 when the NHTSA recommended keeping children in rear-facing seats longer.
Although the new regulations are meant to make choosing a child car seat easier, Stephanie Tombrellow, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group SafetyBeltSafe USA, said that even if the car seat’s maximum weight is labeled, not all parents know their children’s exact weight. She also said, “The less complex the message is, the more likely it is the parent will be able to follow what’s happening.” That seems true enough. Installing child car seats shouldn’t be rocket science, but every possible measure should be taken to ensure children’s safety in vehicles.