LATCH Vs. Seat Belts – What You Need To Know

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What is LATCH?

LATCH - Lower Anchors and Top Tehter in VehicleLATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. Nearly every passenger vehicle and car seat made after September 2002 offers LATCH.

LATCH systems in vehicles include lower anchors in at least TWO seating positions, and top tether anchors in at least THREE positions.

Most vehicles made after Sept. 2002 will allow you to install a car seat using LATCH on either side of the backseat. This includes the top tether as well. The center of the backseat also offers a top tether, but it usually does not offer lower anchors.

Most car seats made after Sept. 2002 also offer LATCH. That includes infant car seats, convertible car seats, and some booster seats. You usually have two lower anchors on the bottom part of the seat, and the tether which is usually found on the backside towards the top of the seat. Most infant car seats do not offer LATCH because they are designed to be used rear-facing. Now, every car seat is different, so make sure you read your car seat manual to fully understand how the LATCH system works on your car seat.

LATCH Vs. Seat Belts – Which is safer?

Seat belt installation is just as safe as LATCH installation, if done properly. The idea behind the LATCH system was to make car seat installation easier, and if it’s easier there’s a better chance it will be done properly, and if it’s done properly it will be safer.

Graco My Ride 65 - Forward-facing with toddler

Graco My Ride 65

Before LATCH was created, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) stated that 85% of all child seats were installed incorrectly. The LATCH system was supposed to change all that. The problem is that LATCH installation is not as easy as they’d hoped, and people are still getting confused.

There are over 40 different companies making child-restraint systems, and if you throw in all the different car seats and all the different vehicles with all the different configurations, it’s no wonder parents are getting confused.

So, let me be perfectly clear! Seat belt installation and LATCH installation are EQUALLY safe, as long as they’re both done properly. Get it checked. There are Child Passenger Safety Techs virtually everywhere. You can find one locally here, on the NHTSA website.

Which position is safest?

Where should you put the car seat? Which position is safest? The CENTER position in the backseat has been proven to be 43% safer than the “outboard” seats. Now, this is where I get frustrated. We’re told to use the LATCH system, because it’s easier, but then on the same note we’re also told that the safest place for our child to be is in the CENTER of the backseat, which happens to be the one place that does not have the lower anchors for LATCH! Now, there are a couple of newer vehicles, like the 2011 Toyota Sequoia and the 2011 Toyota Sienna, that do offer center LATCH systems, but most do not.

So, if at all possible I’d shoot for the center of the back seat, even if it doesn’t have lower anchors. If you have to install your car seat using the center seat belt, it’s okay, as long as it’s done properly.

What if I can’t use the CENTER?

Graco Snugride 35 Review - Image of Child in Seat

Graco Snugride 35

Maybe you’ve got two children and it’s necessary to seat them on the sides, with plenty of space between them. Or maybe you’re having trouble getting a tight installation in the center. Regardless of the reason, it’s not always possible to use the CENTER of the backseat, and it’s OKAY. In fact, in most cases, the “outboard” seats are the most common choice. Mainly because it’s easier to get your children in and out, and it can be easier to get a tighter installation. Just focus on getting your car seat installed correctly and tightly, that’s what’s really important. A loose car seat installed in the CENTER is much more dangerous than a tight install on the side. Check out this article for more information about car seat positioning, Where Should All The Car Seats Go?

Don’t forget the TOP Tether!

Britax Energy-Absorgning Versa-TetherIt can be quite stressful just figuring out the lower anchors, or figuring out the right belt path for a tight installation. In many cases, the top tethers are completely forgotten.  DON’T forget them, they are extremely important. Check out this article for more information about tethers and why they are important.

Most convertible car seats and booster seats offer top tethers, and most vehicles made after September 2002 will offer top tether anchors in all three positions in the backseat. Only use the top tethers with booster seats, or for convertible car seats in the forward-facing position. Most tethers are not designed to be used rear-facing. If you have to install the car seat in the CENTER of the backseat using seat belts, you should still use the top tether.

LATCH Weight Limits

Britax Advocate 70 Convertible Car Seat - Mom and child

Britax Advocate 70

There are two weight limits you have to think about when it comes to using LATCH. The car seats LATCH weight limit, and the vehicles LATCH weight limit. In most cases, they are different. The one that’s really important is the vehicles LATCH weight limit. If the car seat manual states that you can use LATCH up to 50 pounds, and your vehicle owners manual states you can only use it up to 40 pounds, go with the vehicle’s limit. Once you’ve hit that 40 pound limit, which includes both the seat and your child, you have to switch to seat belt installation. In some cases, the vehicle owner’s manual will not state a limit, so it’s a good rule of thumb to assume the limit is 40 pounds.

Top tether anchors may have a separate weight limit. Some vehicles will specify it and some will not. Once again, it’s a good rule of thumb to use the 40 pound limit. The only difference here is that using a top tether past the weight limit won’t put your child in danger. In fact, many experts in the child passenger safety field recommend using the top tethers regardless of the weight limit. They believe that even if it does break during a crash, it will still slow the forward rotation of your child.

For more information about LATCH systems, visit the NHTSA official website.


Related Articles:

Car Seat Safety – The truth about car seat crash testing.

Best Car Seats – Best Selling List – Below I’ve listed some of the best car seats available on the market, including Infant Car Seats, Convertible Car Seats, and Booster Seats.

Car Seat Laws & Car Seat Recommendations – When it comes to choosing the Best Car Seat for your little one, there are a few things you need to know before you make your first purchase. Car Seat Laws in your state is number one!

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