2014 LATCH Changes

Car seat rules are changing in 2014, AGAIN!  Let’s review what these changes are and what they mean for you and your little one.

LATCH is an acronym that stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. It was phased in between 1999-2002 with the goal of giving parents a standard, foolproof method of installing their child seat. The idea was great, but the implementation of this system has been confusing to say the least.

LATCH includes lower anchors (the metal bar in the crevice, or bight, of the vehicle seat) and a top tether (the hook above or behind the seating position to which the tether strap attaches). Passenger vehicles made after September 2002 are required to have two sets of LATCH and one additional top tether (3 top tethers).

LATCH components on child car seats have always carried a weight limit. These limits were previously determined by each child seat manufacturer and were not standard across the industry. They also usually referenced only the child’s weight.  This was because a decade ago, most child seats had an internal harness upper weight limit of 40 lbs and the child seats themselves usually only weighed around 10 lbs meaning the weight on the vehicle’s lower anchors was only around 50 lbs.

When the original LATCH rules were put into place in 2002, law makers did not know that technological advancements would create a heavier child restraint and that safety experts would recommend a higher harnessed weight limit for children.  Today’s child seats can weigh more than 25lbs and have an internal harness weight range between 5 lbs and 90 lbs. This means that the LATCH components could be supporting a total weight that is more than twice as much as they were originally designed for.

NHTSA’s new FMVSS 213 standard address all of these issues, setting long needed industry wide guidelines that both car seat manufactures and vehicle manufacturers must follow.

Here’s what is new:

•  All car seats manufactured after February 27, 2014 will have a label that clearly defines the maximum weight limit for installing that car seat with lower anchors. That maximum weight limit will be 65 lbs when the car seat weight and the child’s weight are combined.

•  NHTSA is using a new 10-year-old dummy (77 lbs) to crash test car seats that claim upper harness weight limits higher than 65 lbs (the original, 6-year-old dummy (62 lbs) will still be used to crash test car seats with weight limits between 50-65 lbs.)

•  If the weight of the dummy plus the weight of the child restraint exceed 65 lbs, the car seat will NOT be tested using the lower anchors.

 

What does this mean for you?

1. You need to know what your vehicle owners’ manual says. In anticipation of these labeling requirements for car seats, many vehicle manufacturers have restated their lower anchor weight limit to align with the child restraint requirements. Not all vehicle manufacturers have done this, and not all have done it retroactively.

2. You need to know what your car seat manual and labels say; especially if your vehicle is on the list of manufacturers that defer to the car seat.

3. In many cases, you’re going to need to know how much your car seat weighs.

 

Booster seats are a different story. Many belt-positioning booster seats now come with LATCH and several combination seats allow LATCH to be used when the seat is in booster mode. This is purely a convenience feature. When your child uses a booster seat, the vehicle seat belt is restraining the child. If you have LATCH connected as well, the LATCH is just securing the booster to the car, preventing it from becoming a projectile when not in use. Therefore, LATCH weight limits do not apply.

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