It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent of a newborn or the grandparent of a pre-teen—when you’re responsible for a child, you want to protect him from harm. One way to ensure your sweetie pie’s safety is by properly restraining him in a car seat while he’s riding in a car. Unfortunately, this is more easily said than done.
There are dozens of different types of car seats on the market today. Some seats are specifically designed for newborns. Others can convert to support a variety of growth stages. Some self-appointed “experts” maintain that the restraint itself—not the seat—is what is important, and encourage parents to use safety vests.
However, no matter which seat you feel is the best for your child, choosing the right fit is only half the battle. You still need to install it safely, which requires a good LATCH system.
A Restraint Is Only as Good as Its LATCH
When preparing their vehicles for a new baby or upgrading their vehicles to accommodate a growing family, many parents focus all of their attention on the qualities of the car seat itself, rather than the safety of the entire system. The quality of the car seat is indeed extremely important. Nevertheless, no matter how state-of-the-art a safety seat is, it won’t be effective if it’s poorly attached to the vehicle.
This is where the LATCH system comes into play.
The LATCH system, or the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children Harnesses restraint system, has been required in vehicles and on child restraints since 2002. This system allows for secure, easy, and accurate installation of child car seats in any vehicle.
It has two essential components:
- Lower anchors. The lower anchors look like little metal buckles or large staples and are located where the back of the seat meets the bottom seat cushion. These anchors connect to anchor pins (which look like tiny staplers) located at the bottom of the car seat. Once attached, the anchors keep the safety seat from moving or slipping forward. It’s important to note that most car seats have adaptations to allow for the use of the lower anchors or the vehicle’s seatbelt.
- Top tethers. The top tethers are essentially pieces of material, similar to seatbelt fabric, that anchor the top of the car seat to the vehicle’s seat. One end attaches to the top of the safety seat while the other connects to buckles located on the rear shelf, in the seat back, on floor, in the cargo area, or on the ceiling. Top tethers should be used at all times with forward-facing child seats, whether they are secured using the safety belt or using the lower anchors.
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