Brace yourself. New child car seat regulations are set to take effect in February 2014. The changes have come under a great deal of criticism, with critics stating the new rule will confuse parents and lead to larger misuse of the already heavily misunderstood car seat system. And confusion around car seat installation can lead to major injury and even death for little ones.
The Proposed Rule
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is revising its rules about the use of the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system that all cars have been required to have since 2001. The LATCH system was created to help make installing a car seat easier, and therefore safer. Currently, each car seat has a weight and height limit for the child who rides in it. Once the child reaches the weight or height limit, that child should be moved to an appropriate booster seat. However, NHTSA now contends that the previous rules on weight limits did not take into account the combined weight of the car seat and child, or the amount of force that the combined weight would put on the lower anchors of the LATCH system. If the weight is too much for the anchors, they could break, putting the child in great harm.
Beginning in February, if the combined weight of your child and her seat is 65 pounds or greater, NHTSA advises that you refrain from using the LATCH system and, instead, use a seatbelt to secure the car seat.
Car seats can weigh as little as 15 pounds and as much as 30 pounds. That means that children who weigh as little as 35 pounds (usually ages 3-5) may not be safe if their seat is installed with LATCH. However, it is recommended that children remain in a car seat with a harness until they outgrow that seat (usually around age seven). But that would mean the child is too heavy for the LATCH system based on the revised rule. So do parents move the child to a booster earlier than preferred or switch to using a seat belt to secure the car seat? What is the safest way to secure our children into our cars?
Edmunds.com reported that, in April of 2012, five child-safety advocates from different organizations, including Safe Ride News Publications, Safety Belt Safe U.S.A., and Traffic Safety Projects, petitioned NHTSA for evidence that the anchors cannot support a child and seat combination of 65 pounds. Many feel that a change to the LATCH system itself is in order to ensure the safety of our children.
But that would take years.
What To Do
If you suspect your child and car seat together might weigh around 65 pounds, you'll need to do a bit of research. First, find out how much your child's car seat weighs. Then weigh your child. You might be surprised how much she's grown since her last checkup. If your child fits into this gray area of too light for a booster but too heavy for the LATCH system, bring your car, with seats installed and children in tow, to your nearest car seat safety inspection station. Talk to the experts about how to best keep your child safe in the car, and let them review your particular car seat and manual to make sure it is installed properly and securely.
Nothing is more important than your child's safety. 4 out of 5 car seats is installed incorrectly. Use this new rule and the confusion surrounding it as the perfect excuse to finally get those seats checked.