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Too many acronyms: making sense of LATCH regulations

Really, we promise it doesn’t take an encyclopedic knowledge of car seat technology to keep your baby safe in the car. And in any case, we’re here to do the research so you don’t have to.

So if you’re bewildered by the alphabet soup of NHTSA, LATCH, JPMA, AAP, don’t worry: we’ll break it down for you! And the new regulations for the use of LATCH with your car seat aren’t as complex as they sound.

Here are the main points that you need to know:

  1. LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers) devices are built into virtually every car from after 2002, and are designed to make car seat installation easier. In most cases, installing your car seat with LATCH or with the seat belt is equally safe; LATCH can just make it easier.
  2. The new regulations, as of February 2014, require you to stop using your LATCH lower anchors when the combined weight of your child and your convertible car seat exceeds 65 pounds. At that point, you’ll need to switch to safety belt installation.
  3. Thankfully, the new regulations require manufacturers to tell you when you have to stop using LATCH. So it’s just another set of weight limits that they’ll list in product descriptions and manuals.

These regulations only apply to car seats with five-point harnesses – that means convertible car seats and combination seats that convert from a standard rear-or-forward-facing car seat to a booster for older kids. They don’t apply to infant bucket seats or seats that only function as belt-positioning boosters.

clek-foonf-blue-moonOne small exception to the general LATCH rules is the Clek Foonf Convertible Car Seat: it features rigid LATCH, which has additional safety benefits. As thecarseatlady.com explains here,

“Rigid LATCH” is when the lower anchor connectors are rigidly connected to the steel frame of the child’s car seat; this is in contrast to “flexible LATCH” where the lower anchor connectors are sewn on to a flexible strap that you must tighten. Rigid LATCH, by directly securing the steel frame of the child’s car seat to the steel frame of the car, virtually eliminates the side-to-side motion of the car seat in a side-impact.  As such, rigid LATCH can better contain the child’s body within the shell of the seat and decreases the chance of the child’s body hitting a hard structure in the vehicle, since the child’s seat can not move as much laterally as it can with flexible LATCH or the seat belt.”

So you want to use that rigid LATCH for as long as you can! Luckily, the Foonf rigid LATCH and belt installation don’t interfere with each other, so you can use both at once, as long as you follow the weight limits carefully. DON’T DO THIS WITH ANY OTHER CHILD SEAT. You should always follow your car seat installation instructions to the T – those instructions ensure the best possible protection for your child.

The new weight recommendations for the Clek Foonf Convertible Car Seat are as follows:

Rear-facing

  • LATCH: use with child weighing 14-25 pounds
  • Vehicle belt installation: use with child weighing 14-50 pounds

Forward-facing

  • LATCH: use with child weighing 20-35 pounds
  • Vehicle belt installation: use with child weighing 20-65 pounds
  • LATCH AND vehicle belt installation together: use for children weighing 20-65 pounds

These new regulations apply only to seats manufactured after February 27, 2014, so it doesn’t affect any seat bought before then. We’ll be providing the weight info for other seats as we get it.

We also wanted to emphasize the importance of using your top tether: whether or not you use your lower LATCH anchors, you can and should use your top tether when your child seat is forward-facing. It’s there to limit forward head excursion in the case of a collision, and does a great job at protecting your child. Any car manufactured after 1995 should have tethers, and you can even have them retro-fitted if your car doesn’t have them.

And of course, if you have any questions about these new regulations, or any other questions about car seats, contact us! We’ve got experts on hand to help.

Many thanks to Jamie Grayson and our own Ben Sung, manager of our Wellesley store, for their fact-checking and awesome car seat expertise!

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