What is LATCH?
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. It is a system for anchoring child car seats to the vehicle without using the adult seatbelt. If fitted properly, there is no theoretical difference in safety between LATCH fitted car seats and belt-fitted car seats. However, research suggests that as many as 75% of all belt-fitted car seats are incorrectly installed, thus rendering them unsafe.
The reason why LATCH is considered to be safer (in the real world) is that belt-fitted seats are much harder to install correctly, whereas LATCH is almost fool-proof. I would always suggest that you use a LATCH fitted car seat for as long as the regulations permit it.
The New Car Seat Laws 2014 – the February Changes
From February 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will require manufacturers of child car seats to add labels to those seats advising users that the LATCH LOWER TETHERS SHOULD NOT BE USED WHEN THE COMBINED WEIGHT OF THE CHILD AND SEAT IS GREATER THAN 65 LBS.
This does not mean that these car seat cannot still be used beyond that weight, but they should be re-fitted using the adult seat belt instead of the LATCH lower tethers.
I should point out that there isn’t actually any evidence to support these changes – there have not been any recorded incidents of LATCH lower tethers failing at combined weights in excess of 65 lbs and the NHTSA have not published any crash test results to demonstrate this phenomenon either. However, they have concerns about the risk of the system failing and I suppose its better to be safe than sorry.
Please note that these changes only apply to the lower anchors and not the top tether.
Also note that, if your child’s car seat comes with a base unit, you must add the weight of this unit into the calculation too.
You will also need to take account of what your vehicle manufacturer says about this issue, since some have specified their own LATCH limits whilst others have simply deferred to the car seat manufacturers. You can read more about this issue here.
Do the Changes Apply to All Seats?
The answer is NO.
If your child uses a booster seat fitted with LATCH connectors, you can continue to use this method of securing the seat in place. The reason for this exception is that a child using a booster seat is actually being restrained by the adult seat belt and the LATCH connectors just provided add security and help to stop the seat base from moving around.
Likewise, these regulations do NOT apply to infant car seats since the combined weight of the seat and infant will not exceed the 65 lb weight limit anyway.
A Case Study
One of the most popular Convertible Car Seats is the Britax Marathon G4.
The pre-February 2014 weight guidelines for this particular seat are that it can be used (LATCH or belt-fitted) by a child weighing between 5 – 65 lbs.
Since the seat itself weighs approximately 25 lbs, the post-February 2014 weight guidelines will be that it can be used (LATCH or belt-fitted) by a child weighing between 5 – 40 lbs.
Once the child weighs more than 40 lbs, the seat can still be used until they reach 65 lbs BUT ONLY IF THE SEAT IS BELT-FITTED.
So, the Britax Marathon G4 seat can still be used by your child for the same length of time – you just need to change the method of installation once s/he weighs more than 40 lbs.
In short, for the Britax Marathon G4:
- 5 – 40 lbs child = LATCH or Belt
- 41 – 65 lbs child = Belt only
Beware of sales assistants trying to persuade you to replace perfectly good car seats – you will probably just have to change the installation method of your existing seat rather than buy a new one.
After purchasing any child car seat, you should always read the User Manual thoroughly before using it. It is also advisable to visit your local Fire Department or NHTSA Child Car Seat Inspection Centre to ensure that the seat is definitely suitable for your child’s specific requirements and that you have installed it correctly. These services are usually provided free of charge.
You can find your nearest NHTSA Centre here.
Do You Need More Help?
If you require any more detailed information or help regarding the new car seat laws and how they might affect your purchasing decisions, you can leave a comment in the box below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
I have updated all of my existing car seat reviews to include the new weight-limit information and any future reviews will also include this information.