A More Reliable System
Today’s car seats are attached using the vehicle’s regular seat belts. When parents don’t fasten them properly, there is too much slack and the seat can move around. When properly installed, child seats reduce the risk of death or serious injury to infants by 71 percent and reduce by 50 percent the risk to children ages 1 through 4, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The problem is, 90 percent of all child seats are installed incorrectly.
> The LATCH system aims to remedy this by eliminating the need for seat belts for car seats. The new seats are snapped into place, making installation almost foolproof.
> Automakers have been equipping vehicles with anchors for the last three model years, but car-seat makers have lagged behind, saying they wanted to make sure the government requirements didn’t change. At press time, there were only two LATCH seats on the market: the Britax Expressway (about $180) and the Safety 1st Forerunner (about $70). All that will change in September, when car-seat makers begin manufacturing LATCH seats. The new seats are expected to cost $10 to $30 more than current models. These seats also have belt paths so you can use them with older vehicles that don’t have anchors.
Making the Transition
Don’t throw out your old car seat just yet. You can still use current-generation seats, they just won’t be manufactured anymore. If you do use an old-style seat, follow the instructions in the vehicle and car-seat owner’s manuals to ensure you install it correctly. Better yet, pay a visit to a child-safety-seat fitting station (see Resources).
> If you have a current car seat and want to use your new car’s metal anchors, you can buy retrofit kits with straps to attach the old seats. These kits cost about $25 and can be found at stores like Toys ’R’ Us and Babies ’R’ Us. They’re available for seats made by most manufacturers, including Century, Evenflo, Cosco and Graco.
> Booster seats, which help raise children (over 40 pounds and 4 years old) high enough to properly fit safety belts, aren’t affected by the new rules.
> Most automakers can’t retrofit older vehicles with lower anchors. Two exceptions are Volkswagen and Audi. VW offers dealer-installed anchors on ’99 and newer Passats and Audi will retrofit anchors on all ’99 and newer Audi models, free of charge.
In most vehicles, the anchors are installed on the left and right sides of the backseat. Some child-safety advocates question why NHTSA didn’t require anchors in the center position, universally regarded as the safest place for children to ride. NHTSA claims it required two sets of anchors rather than one in the center or three across because one wouldn’t be enough for families with more than one child, and three raised safety concerns of too much hardware in the seat. In addition, many center rear seats are humped or otherwise incompatible with child seats.
“Parents shouldn’t place a child seat in the center and use the outboard anchors to attach it unless both the automaker and car-seat maker say it’s safe to do so,” says Deborah Stewart, editor of Safe Ride News. She notes that some vehicles do feature center anchors, including the Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable, PT Cruiser, Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan.
To aid the transition to the LATCH system, NHTSA will launch a public-education campaign in September.
Carol Traeger is an automotive writer and mother who learned the importance of safety belts at age 16 when she rolled the family’s Toyota Corona.
From United Parenting Publications, August 2002