New Car Seat Safety Features

What You Should Know About New Car Seat Safety Features

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 80 percent of child car seats are installed incorrectly. The NHTSA believes that the full effectiveness of child restraint systems is not being realized due to different car seat designs and features that affect the compatibility of child restraints with vehicle seating and seat belt systems. In order to simplify the installation process, an innovative anchorage and tether system known as Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH, has been developed. Beginning September 1, 2002, all new car seats and vehicles will be equipped with this new system, and that means big changes for both car seat and automobile manufacturers. This article will help you get up to speed on this important new development in car seat safety.

See our complete guide for choosing a Baby Car Seat.

What is LATCH?

LATCH is a new standardized child restraint system designed to simplify child safety seat installation and enhance child safety. The result of a new government regulation (FMVSS 225) aimed at reducing the number of car seats that are installed improperly, the goal of the new LATCH system is simple: To increase the effectiveness of car seats by requiring an easy-to-use anchorage system independent of the vehicle seat belts. The LATCH system calls for vehicles to be equipped with one upper (tether) and two lower anchorage points. The upper (tether) anchorage will be a ringlike object permanently attached to the vehicle on either the rear filler panel or on the cargo floor, depending on the vehicle. The two lower anchorages will be a set of two small bars in the rear seat of the vehicle, generally located where the seat cushion meets the seat back. Outfitted with permanently affixed hooks or buckles that are compatible with the anchorages in the vehicle, LATCH-equipped car seats will now attach to the vehicle seat via these anchorages instead of being held by the vehicle’s seat belts. By September 1, 2002, the LATCH system will be required in two rear-seating positions in all new cars, minivans, and light trucks.

Top Tether Straps

As of September 1, 1999, government regulations have required automobile manufacturers to install built-in top tether anchorages in new passenger vehicles. Almost all convertible car seats and high-backed booster car seats manufactured after this date have top tether straps to attach to the vehicle anchor. The purpose of the top tether strap is to better stabilize the car seat and reduce the potential for the head to move forward, thus lessening the likelihood of injury in a collision. The tether strap is attached to the upper back of the child’s car seat and hooks into an anchor located in the rear shelf area of most passenger vehicles. (The mounting location for certain vehicles, like station wagons and minivans, might be in another position.) The top tether straps are only to be used when car seats are in the forward-facing position. Most car seats manufactured before September 1999 can be retrofitted with a tether strap available through the car seat manufacturer and most cars can be retrofitted at the car dealership. Parents and consumers should be aware that a tether strap alone does not constitute the LATCH system.

Lower Anchorage System

Beginning September 1, 2002, all new cars manufactured will be equipped with two sets of small bars (lower anchors) in the rear seat of the vehicle, generally located where the seat cushion meets the seat back. All car seats manufactured will have permanently affixed hooks or buckles designed to attach to these lower vehicle anchorages. Together, the two lower anchorage points and top tether anchorage make up the LATCH system. The new lower anchorage system can be used by itself for all infant and convertible cars seats in the rear-facing position and with the top tether strap for all forward-facing convertible and high-backed booster car seats. Car seats manufactured before September 1, 2002, can be retrofitted with lower anchor attachments with a LATCH kit sold separately. Most older cars cannot be retrofitted with lower anchors.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which vehicles have the LATCH system? – All vehicles, including cars, minivans, and light trucks, manufactured after September 1, 2002, will be equipped with the LATCH system in two rear-seating positions. Some vehicles manufactured after September 1999 are also equipped with the LATCH system, so you should ask your car dealer which models are equipped with the LATCH system when you are buying a used car manufactured after September 1999. You can also check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine if your older vehicle has predrilled points where tether anchorages can be installed.
  • Will the new LATCH-equipped child seats fit my older vehicle? – Yes. New child safety seats that are equipped with the LATCH system can be used in older vehicles. They will have to be installed using your vehicle’s safety belt system without the top tether attachment. (You may be able to install a tether anchor mounting in your older vehicle–contact your vehicle manufacturer for a tether anchor kit). These new seats must continue to meet the current requirements of the standard for head protection when tested without the tether attached.
  • Is my current car seat safe? – Yes. Child safety seats on the market today that were manufactured before September 2002 and are not equipped with the LATCH system are safe when used properly and free of recalls. Continue to use your current child seat with the vehicle’s belt system, making sure you have read the owner’s manuals for both the child seat and the vehicle about proper use and installation in your vehicle. If you are in doubt about installation, look for a car seat safety check, or call your local fire department, hospital, police station, or state highway safety office for assistance. Remember–always put children 12 and under in the back seat.
  • Can my current car seat be fitted with a top tether attachment? – Possibly. Depending upon when your car seat was manufactured, there are tether kits that you can find in our store or order from your car seat manufacturer.
  • Can my older car be fitted with the mounting needed for a top tether attachment? – Probably. Most vehicles can be fitted with the necessary hardware. If you require further information, contact your automobile manufacturer.
  • Which child safety seats have a tether? – Most forward-facing child safety seats manufactured as of September 1, 1999 will have a tether strap attached to the child safety seat. The stricter head protection requirement does not apply to rear-facing and belt-positioning booster seats; therefore, they typically won’t incorporate a tether. If your child safety seat was manufactured before September 1, 1999, check your manufacturer’s instructions or contact the child restraint manufacturer to determine if a tether can be added to your child safety seat.
  • What about side air bags? – Side-impact air bags, which are not required by law, provide additional chest protection to adults in many side crashes; some also provide head protection. Consumers should be aware that children who are seated in close proximity to a side air bag may be at risk of serious or fatal injury if the air bag deploys, especially if the child’s head, neck, or chest is close to the air bag at the time of deployment. Since children 12 and under should ride in the back seat, you should not purchase a vehicle with an activated rear side air bag unless the manufacturer has determined that those side air bags pose no significant risk to children. Because there are variations in the design and performance of side air bags, check with the dealer or read the owner’s manual for information and warnings about child passengers and side-impact air bags.
  • What car seat can I purchase if I drive a new car manufactured after September 1, 2002? – A LATCH-equipped car seat with a permanent top tether and lower anchor attachments, or a LATCH-compatible car seat that comes with a permanent top tether strap but requires the purchase of a LATCH kit sold separately. The kit will retrofit the seat with the lower anchor attachments.
  • What car seat can I purchase if I drive a car manufactured after September 2000 and before September 1, 2002? – A LATCH-equipped or compatible car seat for use with your vehicle seat belt system, or a non-LATCH car seat for use with your vehicle seat belt system.
  • What car seat can I purchase if I drive an older car manufactured before September 1, 2002? – A LATCH-equipped or compatible car seat for use with your vehicle seat belt system, or a non-LATCH car seat for use with your vehicle seat belt system.
  • In vehicles that do not have LATCH anchorages, the vehicle seat belt system can still be used to install any car seat, including the new LATCH-equipped seats.

Car Seats We Love

Child Safety Online

Most people who go online have mainly positive experiences. But, like any endeavor – going outside, cooking, or attending school – there are some risks. The online world, like the rest of society, is made up of a wide array of people. Most are decent and respectful, but some may be rude, obnoxious, insulting, or even mean and exploitative. Children get a lot of benefit from being online, but they can also be targets of crime and exploitation in this as in any other environment. Trusting, curious, and anxious to explore this new world and the relationships it brings, children need parental supervision and common-sense advice on how to be sure that their experiences in “cyberspace” are happy, healthy, and productive.

Putting the Issue in Perspective

Although there have been some highly publicized cases of abuse involving the Internet and online services, reported cases are relatively infrequent. Of course, like most crimes against children, many cases go unreported, especially if the child is engaged in an activity that he or she does not want to discuss with a parent.

The fact that crimes are being committed online, however, is not a reason to avoid using these services. To tell children to stop using these services would be like telling them to forgo attending school because students are sometimes victimized there.

A better strategy would be to instruct children about both the benefits and dangers of cyberspace and for them to learn how to be “street smart” in order to better safeguard themselves in any potentially dangerous situation.

What Are the Risks?

There are a few risks for children who use the Internet or online services. Teenagers are particularly at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised and because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity.

Some risks are:

  • Exposure to Inappropriate Material – One risk is that a child may be exposed to inappropriate material that is sexual, hateful, or violent in nature, or encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal.
  • Physical Molestation – Another risk is that, while online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used email, forums, and chat areas to gain a child’s confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting.
  • Harassment – A third risk is that a child might encounter email or chat/forum messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.
  • Legal and Financial – There is also the risk that a child could do something that has negative legal or financial consequences such as giving out a parent’s credit card number or doing something that violates another person’s rights. Legal issues aside, children should be taught good “netiquette” which means to avoid being rude, mean, or inconsiderate.

How Parents Can Reduce the Risks

While children need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the “real world” also apply while online.

Be sure to install a powerful security system on your computer such as Norton Internet Security, and keep it up to date. This will protect your computer from viruses, intrusions by hackers, spyware, spam, privacy threats, nasty pop-ups and even allow you to limit the sites your children can access.

If you have cause for concern about your children’s online activities, talk to them. Also seek out the advice and counsel of teachers, librarians, and other Internet and online service users in your area. Open communication with your children, utilization of such computer resources, and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their use. If your child tells you about an upsetting person or thing encountered while online, don’t blame your child but help him or her avoid problems in the future. Remember – how you respond will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem and how they learn to deal with problems on their own.

Remember that most “search engines” do not, by default, filter out material that might be inappropriate for children, but some offer a child-safe option and some are designed specifically for use by children.

Some online services and ISPs allow parents to limit their children’s access to certain services and features such as adult-oriented web sites and “chat” rooms and bulletin boards. There may be an area set aside just for kids where you don’t have to worry about them stumbling onto inappropriate material or getting into an unsupervised chat.

At the very least, keep track of any files your children download to the computer, consider sharing an email account with your children to oversee their mail, and consider joining your children when they are in private chat areas.

The best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend time with your children while they’re online. Have them show you what they do, and ask them to teach you how to use the Internet or online service. You might be surprised at how much you can learn from your kids.

Recommended Security Software

Guidelines for Parents

By taking responsibility for your children’s online computer use, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to:

  • Never give out identifying information – home address, school name, or telephone number – in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards (newsgroup), and be sure you’re dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving out this information via email. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information. Do not post photographs of your children on web sites or newsgroups that are available to the public. Consider using a pseudonym, avoid listing your child’s name and email address in any public directories and profiles, and find out about your ISP’s privacy policies and exercise your options for how your personal information may be used.
  • Get to know the Internet and any services your child uses. If you don’t know how to log on, get your child to show you. Have your child show you what he or she does online, and become familiar with all the things that you can do online.
  • Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child.
  • Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your ISP, and ask for their assistance. Instruct your child not to click on any links that are contained in email from persons they don’t know. Such links could lead to sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate web sites.
  • Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or herself. Thus, someone indicating that “she” is a “12-year-old girl” could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
  • Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that’s “too good to be true” probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve you coming to a meeting, having someone visit your house, or sending money or credit card information.
  • Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children. Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Click here for a set of rules you can print and post next to your computer
  • Remember to monitor your children’s compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child’s excessive use of online services or the Internet, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
  • Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child’s bedroom. Get to know their “online friends” just as you get to know all of their other friends.