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Child Car Seat Safety: LATCH & Upgrades To The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard

Latch Guidelines

In light of the new LATCH Guidelines, which take effect in February, and the recent NHTSA proposal, I thought it important to alert parents to the upcoming changes affecting their existing car seats or future car seat purchase. Child car seat safety is the goal of all parents and in an accident, it is nice to know that organizations like the NHTSA are continuously looking to improve car seat safety guidelines.

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children or “LATCH” anchors, were mandated in the United States in 2002 to more easily and safely secure a child in a car seat without the use of a vehicle’s seat belt. These anchors, or loop shaped rings in the back seat of your vehicle where the seat back and seat bottom meet, are the universal way to safely install your child’s car seat. However, many parents don’t realize that the LATCH anchors are designed for a limited amount of weight – 65 pounds.

Currently, the maximum weight limit of your child for LATCH use is 40 pounds but the problem with this standard is that it fails to take into account the varying weights of car seats. Next month, new guidelines take effect changing the maximum rated weight limit of your child and car seat combined, from 40 pounds to 65 pounds. If the combined weight of your child and the car seat is in excess of 65 pounds, you should install your child’s car seat using your vehicle’s seat belt rather than LATCH anchors.

Additionally, new labeling requirements will help clarify the limits of LATCH use for each car seat.

NOTE that it is always acceptable to utilize the top tether for forward facing car seats whether you install the car seat with the LATCH anchors or seat belt as it will help limit the child in a car seat in the event of a sudden stop or crash.

On January 22, 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) proposed new regulations on Child Car Seats to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard which, for the first time, would protect children from death and injury in side-impact crashes.

The proposed regulations would include impact tests wherein a car seat designed for children weighing up to forty pounds would be placed in a specially designed sled to create a “T-bone” crash. The impact test is the first of its type; it will simulate both the acceleration of the vehicle being struck and the door of the offending vehicle crushing toward the car seat. The testing simulates the front of a vehicle traveling approximately 30 mph strikes the side of a small passenger vehicle carrying a car seat and traveling approximately 15 mph. Further, the test will use a 12 month-old child test dummy and a newly developed 3 year-old child test dummy developed specifically for the side-impact testing. The side impact testing will require that car seats demonstrate the safe restraint of a child by preventing head and chest contact with an intruding vehicle door.

The NHTSA proposal allows car seat manufacturers 3 years to make the changes necessary to meet the new regulations upon final publication.

If you or someone you know has been involved in an automobile accident in or around Atlanta, you should contact Rice McGowan & Brandt as soon as possible to understand your rights; call us to learn more.

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