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Where should a child safety seat be installed in a vehicle?

Installing Child Safety Seats

Stephanie Tombrello (Child Passenger Safety Educator & Executive Director, SafetyBeltSafe USA) gives expert video advice on: Where should a child safety seat be installed in a vehicle?; How do I install my rear-facing child safety seat using the LATCH system?; How do I install my child safety seat using a safety belt? and more...

Where should a child safety seat be installed in a vehicle?

Safety seats need to be installed in the safest location in the vehicle you're using. We recommend that children stay in the back seat until they're age 15, based on the newest research that we've seen. So the safety seat should be installed in the back seat. The center of the back seat is generally the safest location in the vehicle for the safety seat. However there are reasons sometimes not to use that position. So, the first thing is to look at that location and see if the safety seat fits tightly there, and if the system that you have in that location for holding the safety seat in is appropriate for the age and size of your child.

What are "car tethers"?

Safety seats that are forward facing and have a full harness system now come with a strap on the back of the seat and this strap has a hook which is meant to attach to a tether anchor in the back of the vehicle. Generally tethers are used only forward facing although there are some models of safety seats for which a tether may be used in the rear facing position. Clearly as with any safety seat situation you must read the instructions for that particular product. What a top tether does is to hold the seat in position during a crash so that the top of the seat does not go as far forward. All forward facing safety seats must meet a particular standard without the use of the top tether. But, they also have to meet another standard where they may use the top tether to meet it and you want your child to be protected with a top tether. A top tether can actually reduce the distance forward your child's head goes in a crash, anywhere from two to eight inches. Tethers are better.

What is a "LATCH" attachment system?

LATCH stands for "Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children". The LATCH attachment system is a system for installing safety seats without the use of a vehicle safety belt. The idea was that many safety belts were designed for better protection for human beings, and so they weren't convenient to use safely with safety seats anymore. The safety belts were too far forward from the crack where the vehicle seat back and seat bottom come together, and so they weren't pulling back on the safety seat and holding it tightly in place. Instead, starting in about 2002, some bars were put into the crack at the back of the vehicle seat that were designed specifically to attach the safety seats. At the same time, lower attachment connectors and attachments were put on the safety seats so that they could match up with the bars.

When should I use a safety belt instead of the LATCH system in my car?

There are times when you want to use the safety belt instead of the attachments, particularly if you are using a safety seat with a full harness that goes above 48 pounds. The current weight limit on most of those lower attachment bars is 48 pounds. So, LATCH is a convenience and sometimes it improves protection because it allows for a tighter fit and greater ease for parents to attach the safety seat properly, but the safety belt will always be a safe restraint system in terms of the weight of the child in the seat. In many cases, it will lock tightly. Since 1996 models, safety seats have had to have what's called a lockability feature. In other words, it means that you can manually lock the belt through the car seat by something that you do to the safety belt; a lot of parents don't know about that and they're missing the fact that they can lock that safety belt through the car seat properly.