I will confess: I am a little bit of a car-seat safety fanatic. Some people might call me an advocate, but let’s be real. I verge on crazy status. I kept my kids rear-facing well past the age of two. I’ve schlepped their car seats on and off of airplanes more times than I can count. I’ve tsk-tsk’d their installation again and again until it is JUST RIGHT. But I make no apologies. Why should I? If there’s one thing I’m crazy about, it’s my kids’ safety. See? It doesn’t sound so crazy anymore.
That’s why I was surprised – no, shocked – to discover that a car seat safety rule exists that I didn’t know about. As a result, I was unknowingly putting my son in an unsafe position. I thought I should share the one rule that slipped past even a car-seat safety fanatic like me. Because, you know, it takes a village. You’re probably already familiar with the LATCH safety system.
LATCH is an acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. These are the anchor points in your car that allow you to clip your car seat directly into the frame of your car’s existing seat without using the car’s seatbelt to secure the child restraint. LATCH anchors are required in at least two seating positions in the rear seat of your car. They’re most commonly next to the windows, but this can vary by vehicle. All car seats manufactured after 2002 are equipped with LATCH tethers – essentially clips that connect directly to LATCH anchors – thereby allowing you to more easily install the seat correctly without the use of a seatbelt. LATCH anchors are the preferred method for installing your car seat. Or so I thought. For years, since my oldest was born, I have been obsessive about always using the LATCH system. When we shuffle the car seats around, I always situate the kids’ in the seats with a LATCH system, even when it makes for undesirable seating combinations, like adults jammed into middle seats while my toddlers lounge like kings in the captain’s chairs. Recently though, a fellow mom (who also happens to be a Car Seat Safety Technician) shared a car seat installation rule I’d never heard before.
The LATCH system in most vehicles is only built to accommodate a load of 65 pounds. Sure, no problem, I thought. My oldest is still nowhere near 65 pounds. But, as she went on to point out, that 65-pound limit includes the weight of the child restraint, a.k.a. car seat. Do you realize how heavy car seats are these days? In order to use the LATCH system, the sum of the child’s weight and the weight of the car seat must be no more than 65 pounds. Since most car seats weigh upwards of 20 pounds now, many manufacturers recommend that you stop using the LATCH system when a child reaches 40 pounds. At 45 pounds, my five-year-old is still in a five-point harness car seat, which he will probably be in until he gets his driver’s license. (Is there a rule about driving from a car seat?) Up until today, his car seat was secured using the LATCH system. I had never even noticed the sticker on the side which specifies that the LATCH system is for use up to 40 pounds only. I guess I’m not perfect after all. Now my son’s car seat is secured with the seatbelt. When he is done with the five-point harness and transitions to using the seatbelt himself, we can return to using the LATCH system.
At that point, the seatbelt is made to absorb his impact in the event of a crash, and the LATCH system would then only be used to keep the seat from catapulting through the car. To learn more about proper car seat installation, check out the widely acclaimed website Car Seats for the Littles, maintained by a team of certified Car Seat Safety Technicians. For more about the LATCH system, see the article “LATCH: What’s the Deal with Weight Limits?” and view Children Hospital of Philadelphia’s instructional video about using the LATCH system.