2014 LATCH Car Seat Law Changes – What You Need to Know
“Wait, new car seat laws? What? Yikes! Help!” That seems to be the reaction of most parents when they learn that new laws involving car seats may take effect this year. And it seems the more people read, the more concerned they get, because, well, laws are confusing. Car seats are confusing. You (hopefully) believe that you should follow the law and want your child to be safe—but how do you do that when you have no idea what you’re supposed to do?
Answer: Read this article. You’re probably following the recommendations of this law already, and if you’re not, you can correct it yourself easily!
The LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system comprises the upper tether anchors and lower anchors (found in the fold of the seat and often not even noticed by people who don’t know to look for them). The LATCH system was phased in beginning around 15 years ago, and all passenger vehicles made in 2002 and after have these anchors installed.
The purpose of this system is to make it easier to install child car seats safely. In many cases, it does indeed simplify the task. However, LATCH is not any safer than securing the seat with the seat belt, provided that the seat belt installation is done correctly.
What Hasn't Changed
Long-standing “rules” to follow when using LATCH include:
- For rear-facing car seats, use two of the lower anchors only. There are a very small number of seats that allow the top tether strap to be used for rear-facing, but most don’t.
- For forward-facing seats, use the two lower anchors plus the upper tether anchor (and remember, kids should ride rear-facing until at least 2 years old and as long as possible after that).
- Most booster seats do not use LATCH. Consult the seat manual to know for sure.
- Never attach more than one seat to the same anchor.
- Don’t use the seat belt and lower anchors simultaneously on the same car seat.
- The majority of vehicles do NOT allow LATCH lower anchors to be used in the middle seat. To install a car seat in the middle, you will probably need to use the seat belt. Some vehicles—mostly minivans and large SUV’s—do allow for center LATCH, but if you can’t tell by reading your car’s owner manual, it’s best to use the seat belt instead.
What Has Changed
This is where it starts getting confusing. On a certain level, nothing really has actually changed for parents. This law does not specifically require consumers to do anything differently. If you read the rather long and wordy text of the regulation itself, which was written by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, what it does is lay out new labeling requirements for the child restraint manufacturers.
So, why would consumers even care about this issue at all? In short, the new labels are meant to give clearer directions to parents about when to stop using LATCH and switch to the seat belt installation.
You are probably aware that your child seat has a weight limit. That limit has not changed; if it says the child using it must be under 40 pounds and under 40 inches (or whatever its stated limits are), that is still the case. You might not know, however, that the lower LATCH anchors on your vehicle have a weight limit too. They are designed to hold up to 65 pounds and have been found to keep that amount of weight secure in a severe crash.
The anchors themselves haven’t changed either, but children are now riding in harnessed car seats for much longer than 10 or 15 years ago. This is great news, because harnessed seats are much safer for young children than boosters. On the other hand, the result was that heavier kids were riding in larger and heavier seats than they used to, and were exceeding the anchors’ weight limits.
If this law is passed (and it is not a done deal yet, although many have been led to believe it is), child seat manufacturers must include a label on any seat that could, if used within its stated child weight limit, wind up being heavier than 65 pounds. The label will take into account the weight of the car seat and thus will be specific to each model of seat. For example, if the seat weighs 15 pounds, the label will state not to use LATCH to install the seat for a child who weighs over 50 pounds. That way, the lower anchors will not be holding more than their limit of 65 pounds total.
So...what do I do?
Unless it’s very new, your car seat probably does not include the new labeling. You need to make sure that you aren’t overloading your car’s LATCH anchors. This has never been safe, but most people didn’t know it wasn’t, hence the new labeling requirement.
Your first stop is your child seat manual. Look in the section about how to install the seat forward-facing with LATCH. It will probably say something like “Do not use the lower anchors of the LATCH system to secure this seat for a child weighing over 50 pounds.”
If you cannot locate any LATCH weight limit in the car seat manual, the simplest way to go about this is to weigh your seat, or look it up on the manufacturer’s website, where they may specify its weight in the description. Then, simply subtract: 65 pounds minus the car seat’s weight equals the max child weight for LATCH. The heaviest seat currently on the market weighs around 37 pounds, so if your child is under 28 pounds, LATCH limits are not a concern for you at this time (but keep them in mind for the future).
These new rules also do not apply to booster seats, nor to the use of the top tether.
The Bottom Line
- Make sure you are not expecting the lower LATCH anchors to secure more than 65 pounds. The anchors always had this limit, but many parents were unaware of it.
- This new regulation requires new labels of manufacturers that should make it easier to determine whether your kid plus seat exceed that limit.
- Always read your car seat manual before installing the seat. Pay attention to the labels on the sides and back as well, since they contain critical safety information.
- After installing it, have it checked by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. This service is usually free.
That’s it! Hopefully, you feel more informed and less confused now. If you still have questions, consult a local CPST. Find one by visiting safekids.org.