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Car-Safety.Org Information on LATCH ( Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren )
Top tethers and LATCH are two important improvements in carseat safety and convenience. LATCH has been available in most passenger vehicles since model year 2003. Tether anchors have been available since model year 2000. This article addresses many questions and concerns about this system.
A top tether (or top strap) is the supplemental attachment now standard on almost every new carseat in the USA. Top tethers can be used with either the seat belt or with the lower anchors (as part of the LATCH system). In other countries, their use may be required by law. A top tether is simply a strap that connects the top of the carseat to an anchor mounted in the vehicle at a location behind the carseat, usually the parcel shelf or a point on the floor of the cargo area. It is designed to prevent the forward movement of the top of a forward-facing carseat in a frontal crash. This reduces the head excursion of the child, and can reduce the chances of injury. Almost all current carseats can only meet the tougher new federal safety standards when the tether is used, even though they must still meet the minimum safety standards without a tether.
To install a top tether, you need both a carseat with a tether, and a vehicle with an anchor. All convertible and forward-facing carseats come with tethers. Most model year 2000 vehicles have tether anchors installed at the factory. Virtually all model year 2001 and later vehicles have tether anchors as well. Vehicle owner's manuals often detail the locations of these anchors. They can be on the bottom of a seat, in the floor, on the rear deck of a sedan/coupe, in the cargo area roof of a wagon or SUV, and may even route through a fabric loop in some pickup trucks. In some cases, the carseat's owner's manual may also specify other anchor points that can be used for a tether. In a few cases, the manual may also specify the orientation that the hook must use when attached to the anchor.
Most older vehicles made since 1989 have factory locations for the installation of a tether anchor. Some older vehicles can also have an anchor installed by the dealer. Installation can vary in difficulty. An owner can usually buy a tether anchor part kit from a dealer parts department. Other vehicles may require some drilling or other customization, and this should follow industry recommendations. Ford, GM, Chrysler and other makers have programs for free tether anchor installation at participating dealers.
The adjustments for tether strap lengths also vary from carseat to carseat. Some are easy to change, with just a tilt or push of a button. Others require fiddling with more complicated slider buckles. The end result should be the same. Once the tether is tight, the top of the carseat will be restrained from forward movement.
Top tethers MUST NOT be used with rear-facing infant or convertible seats, unless it is SPECIFICALLY mentioned in the owner's manual. At this time, there are only a few seats available in the USA that can be tethered in rear-facing operation. These include convertible seats from Britax, Combi and Diono. Some of these models allow for a rear-facing tether that can be anchored toward the front of the vehicle (TFV or "Swedish Method"), or toward the rear of the vehicle (TRV or "Australian Method"). If specified in the instructions, either method is acceptable provided a suitable anchor is available. The TRV method may improve safety in a frontal crash. The TFV method will improve stability and will help attain the appropriate recline for newborns and young infants. It may also improve safety in side, rear and rollover crashes, as it can limit the rebound of the carseat. Studies in Sweden show very low fatality rates, partially due to the fact that they keep their children rear-facing until age 3 or 4, and tether rear-facing seats in this manner. Rear-Facing is Safest for children and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear-facing as long as possible.
If you have a tether on your carseat and an anchor in your
vehicle, this system is recommended to reduce the chance (and severity) of
injuries in a crash. Please consult the owner's manual for your
carseat and your vehicle for details. You can also contact the
manufacturer of your carseat and vehicle for this information.
Some auto dealers will also be able to help. The website below
has additional information:
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. LATCH includes two lower anchor attachments AND a top tether. The term is often used generically to refer only to the pair of fixed lower anchors built into the bight or crack between the seat back and seat cushion. These anchors are specifically designed for carseat installation. When used, seatbelts are no longer necessary to install the carseat. The idea is to make it easier to install carseats safely, and to make it more universal among carseats and vehicles. LATCH will be found on infant seat bases, rear-facing, front-facing and combination booster seats that have an internal harness. Carbeds, infant seat carriers, booster-only models and vests are exempt and may not have LATCH.
The LATCH system was originally called ISOFIX, a term still used in Europe. In Canada, it is the Lower Universal Anchorage System (LUAS) or CANFIX. It has also been called the Universal Child Safety Seat System or UCSSS. Some carseat companies have trade names for this system, for example, Britax uses the term ISOFIT All of these names refer to the same universal anchorages that appear on a few model year 2000 vehicles and even more model year 2001 and 2002 vehicles. These are required by law in the USA for almost all model year 2003 and later vehicles. With the exception of the Volkswagen Passat and a few Audi models since 1999, lower LATCH anchors cannot be retrofitted onto earlier model vehicles.
LATCH is not necessarily safer than using a seatbelt to install a
carseat. A carseat installed properly with seatbelts should be just
as safe as one using LATCH. The advantage of the LATCH system is
that it should make it much easier to get a proper installation. In
a vehicle that does not have LATCH anchors, a carseat with LATCH
capability can also be used with the vehicle's seatbelt system instead of
LATCH. If your carseat and vehicle are LATCH equipped, it is
recommended that you use the LATCH system if it results in a good fit for
the carseat. It is still possible that some combinations of LATCH
carseats and vehicles will not work well together, and in that case it is
preferable to use the seatbelt for installation if it is more
secure. It is not necessary to use both the seatbelt and the LATCH
system. With some vehicles and carseats, the manuals may
specifically instruct NOT to use both systems. More information about
LATCH use can be found at these websites:
LATCH lower attachments are now found on most carseats that have an internal harness. On an infant seat, the lower attachments will be found on the base. Though not required, a manufacturer may include LATCH on the carrier of an infant seat as well. Infant seats will not include a top tether. Convertible seats can use lower LATCH anchors for either rear-facing or forward-facing installations. Some convertible models may include separate attachments for rear and front-facing use, so it may be important to make sure you are using the correct lower attachments. Other convertible models may require the parent to adjust the lower attachments in some manner when switching from rear-facing to forward-facing operation. For these, it will be important to read the manual to make sure that you have routed the lower attachments correctly and are using the connector correctly (some connectors must be used in a particular orientation if specified in the manual). As mentioned in the section on tethers, most convertible models may NOT use a top tether while rear-facing.
Carseats that may only be used forward-facing will usually have the most straightforward LATCH installation, with only one set of lower attachments. Combination models that have an internal harness and convert to a booster will also have LATCH. Most manufacturers will only allow the use of the lower attachments and top tether when the combination seat is used with the internal harness. If the harness has a 40 pound limit, it is removed and the combination seat is used as a belt positioning booster. If the harness has a weight limit higher than 40 pounds, then the seatbelt should be used to install the seat once the child exceeds the seat's LATCH limit. When used as a booster, most manufacturers will NOT allow the seat to be attached to the vehicle with either the lower anchors or the top tether. There are exceptions to this. The Britax Frontier and some Graco and Evenflo models are exceptions to this rule and allow top tether or lower anchors to be used with their combination boosters, both with the harness and as a belt positioning booster . You MUST read your owners manual to find out what is recommended regarding LATCH and tether use with a combination booster model. Most models that only function as a booster will not have LATCH at all, though there are exceptions, such as the Britax Parkway SGL and the Diono Monterey.
There is growing interest in using the top tether and lower anchors for children in harnessed forward-facing carseats that have weight limits above 40 pounds. The government safety standards do have a safety margin above that, and were based on a combined child and carseat weight of 65 pounds. It is possible that some automakers added a safety margin above that. Even so, it is best to check with your vehicle's manufacturer and carseat manufacturer if this is an issue, especially if your child exceeds 48 pounds. Unfortunately, some companies may not have this information readily available for consumers.
(Diono does allow consumers to use the specialized LATCH attachments up to the full weight capacity of the Radian carseats if the vehicle was manufactured after Sept. 1, 2005. More information is available at the Car Seat Blog.
Most current LATCH models in the USA use a flexible belt to attach the carseat to the anchors. There is also a rigid attachment system that tends to be extremely easy to use. The only harnessed rigid LATCH model recently on the market is the Kiddy Cruiserfix Pro. Consumers should note that, like any carseat, any particular rigid LATCH model may not work in some vehicles. The shape of the seating cushions, spacing and location of the LATCH anchors can cause issues with rigid LATCH systems. In most vehicles that do work with rigid LATCH restraints, they have been extremely simple to install in just a few seconds— literally, "click and go." Plus, rigid LATCH seats tend to be extremely secure in frontal impacts and are proving to provide extra protection in side impacts as well.
It is worth noting that the September 2002 federal deadline applied to manufacturing only. Manufacturers continued shipping remaining inventories of their existing models until supplies were depleted. Similarly, retailers also sold existing non-LATCH models for some time past the deadline. It is possible that consumers still purchased non-LATCH models into 2005 and beyond. However, nearly all of the restraints that were produced before the mandate have expired even if they were purchased in the last few years. Consumers will have no trouble finding an appropriate LATCH-compatible model in today's market.
Virtually all vehicles sold since 2003 have LATCH as standard equipment in at least two seating positions. Many model year
2002 vehicles and some model year 2001 vehicles have LATCH as well,
including many models of minivans and SUVs. Only a few model year
2000 vehicles had LATCH, including the 2000 Ford Windstar. VW Passat and
some Audi models since 1999 may be able to have the LATCH system
installed by the dealer. Lower LATCH anchors cannot be
retrofitted into other vehicles. The most definitive source of whether or not your vehicle has LATCH is your owner's manual.
LATCH and tethers are important safety advances for child
safety. If you have young children and are considering a new
carseat or vehicle, please
investigate these options carefully. Also, please visit our Guide to Carseat
Selection and Use. We would be very happy
to try to answer any questions or problems you may have regarding LATCH,
tethers, or carseat installation. Please post them at our FORUMS.
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