Making Sense of Car Seats, Booster Seats and the LATCH System

Car Booster Seat Safety and the LATCH System

Child car seats are vital to the safety of infants and children. But once a toddler or preschooler reaches the manufacturer’s weight or height limit for a forward-facing car seat, she will need to switch from a car seat to a booster seat. The booster seat will allow for proper placement of the car’s seat belt that is used to secure the child.

Infant car seats designed for today’s vehicles come with the LATCH systemfor easy installation. LATCH stands for “lower anchors and tethers for children” and ensures that your car seat is attached securely to the car. The lower anchors connect to built-in loops in the car’s seats and the tether attaches to the floor of a minivan or to a loop built into the back dashboard of a car. The tether keeps the car seat from tipping forward and helps keep your child safe and protected while riding in the car.

On the other hand, booster seats are safer when not used with the LATCH system. If you were to stop suddenly or were in an accident, the booster seat would remain in place while your child, secured by the seat belt, would be thrown forward, possibly resulting in injury from the belt itself. If your little one is sitting on a booster seat using only the car’s seat belt, then everything will shift together and the car seat belt would spring into action and tighten up faster, as it is designed to do.

To ensure that your child’s car safety seat is installed correctly, refer to the car’s manual and to the car seat manufacturer’s instructions. If you no longer have the manual or instructions, you can usually download copies from the car and seat manufacturers’ websites.

To further guarantee child booster seat safety, always buy new seats for your children.  Seats purchased at garage sales or obtained from friends may have hidden damage that makes them unsafe. For the same reason, you should also replace any car seat or booster seat that has been in an accident. Even in a relatively minor accident, a booster seat may suffer structural defect that could compromise your child’s safety.

Always refer to your child’s car seat manual for proper instructions before using a baby child seat or booster seat. If you are uncomfortable not using the LATCH system for a booster seat, choose a seat that has higher weight and height limits for the five-point harness. Normally, when your child hits 40 pounds or his or her shoulders sit above the highest strap slot, he or she needs to switch to a booster. However, some special seats are designed to accommodate kids up to 65 pounds.

For more information on car seat safety for children, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/.

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