A new federal rule requires manufacturers of automobile child safety seats to warn parents about their products’ weight specifications. If the combined weight of the child and the seat is 65 pounds or more, parents should not use the lower anchors to attach the car seat.
The lower anchors are part of the LATCH system, an acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, and they have been required in cars since 2001. However, testing has determined that the strength of the anchors is uncertain for weights of 65 pounds or more.
Car seats often weigh between 15 and 33 pounds, so the new rules could mean that a child who weighs only 32 pounds would not be able to use a car seat attached with the lower anchors.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sought the rule change because previous limits did not account for the weight of the car seat and were based on older models of child safety seats.
Use and awareness of the LATCH system is already low. Safe Kids Worldwide, an advocacy group, conducted a study that found that the lower anchors were used by car seat checkpoint technicians just 30 percent of the time, and only 30 percent of parents used the top tether straps for car seats, which are designed to prevent injuries to the child’s head in a crash.
The LATCH system was designed to be an easier way to secure a car seat (compared to using the seat belt). Both methods are considered to be equally safe, and parents have the flexibility to use either system.
The rule change came about after the lower anchors failed to work properly during testing with a 77-pound crash-test dummy in a car seat in a 30 mph crash.
Because child safety seats vary in weight, manufacturers will need to determine the maximum child weight permitted for each seat for labeling purposes. Car seat labels must include a height, weight and age range as well as an expiration date, typically six years after manufacture.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should use car seats with harnesses through age eight. The Academy’s research led car seat manufacturers to design more seats for children who weigh 65 pounds or more.
Legal requirements for children in car seats vary by state, and they are usually based on age, not weight. The average legal age for a child to ride with an adult seat belt and no other restraint is between seven and eight years old.