Car Seats and Your Child’s Safety

Receiving news that your child has been injured is every parent’s worst nightmare. The sad reality is that accidents will occur even when all the necessary precautions have been taken. However, using the right safety equipment when on the road – such as car seats –can make a vast difference in the safety of your child. Here is a quick guide that can help you choose the most appropriate car seat for your child:

Installation information—seat belts and LATCH

Car seats may be installed with either the vehicle’s seat belt or the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. Both are equally safe, but in some cases, it may be easier to install the car seat using LATCH.

Diagram of where to find the LATCH tethers on carseats: one on the top and two on the bottom on either side

Figure 1: Car seat with LATCH

LATCH is an attachment system for car seats. Lower anchors can be used instead of the seat belt to install the seat and many parents find them be easier to use in some cars. The top tether improves the safety provided by the seat and is important to use for all forward-facing seats, even those installed using the vehicle seat belt. Read the vehicle owner’s manual and the car safety seat instructions for weight limits for lower anchors and top tethers.

Vehicles with the LATCH system have anchors located in the back seat, where the seat cushions meet. Top tether anchors are located behind the seat, either on the panel behind the seat (in sedans) or on the back of the seat, ceiling, or floor (in most minivans, SUVs, and hatchbacks). All car seats have attachments that fasten to these anchors. Nearly all passenger vehicles and all car seats made on or after September 1, 2002, come with LATCH.

Seat belts: If you install the car seat using your vehicle’s seat belt, check the vehicle owner’s manual to see if you need a locking clip to keep the belt locked into position. Locking clips are not needed in most newer vehicles, but you may need to fully extend the seat belt first and then allow it to retract in order to keep the seat belt tight around the car safety seat. Many car safety seats have built in lock-offs to lock the belt.

The safest place for all children younger than 13 years to ride is the back seat. If possible, it may be best to ride in the middle of the back seat. However, it is sometimes difficult to install a car seat tightly in the middle if the vehicle seat is narrow or uneven. Also, most vehicles do not have LATCH anchors for the middle seating position. It is safest to put the car seat in a position where you can install it tightly with either LATCH or the seat belt; in some cases, this may be on either side of the back seat rather than the middle. A child passenger safety (CPS) technician can help you decide which place is best to install your child’s car seat in your vehicle.

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