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New federal rule warns about child seat anchors

3:56 PM, Feb 21, 2014   |    comments
New federal rule requires labels warning that lower anchors, like these, shouldn't be used if child plus child seats weighs more then 65 pounds. (Photo: James Haba for American Academy of Pediatrics)
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(USA TODAY ) Federal regulators will issue a rule Tuesday that requires child seat labels warning parents not to use the seats and the in-car anchors known as LATCH once children and their seats weigh about 65 pounds combined.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration refused a request by safety advocates and child seat makers to raise the maximum weight to 80 pounds for use of LATCH because children now stay in child seats longer. And it says the new rule should simplify instructions for proper installation of the seats by making changes to a proposed label.

LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children and includes tethers are the top and anchors at the bottom of seats and corresponding attachments in cars.

Critics worry the weight warnings could discourage people from using LATCH, which is intended to make child seat installation easier. But NHTSA said its research showed there was too much risk in raising the weight limit.

NHTSA says about 30% of people use LATCH attachments without using the top tether straps, which can lead to too much strain on the lower anchors. NHTSA tested a child dummy in a child seat that was restrained only by the lower anchors in two vehicles. The combined weight of the dummy and child seat was 78 pounds and the anchors pulled out of the floor in one vehicle.

The new rule will require child seat labels to include the maximum weight a child can be in the seat when used with LATCH. To make it easier for parents, children's weight ranges will be rounded up in increments of five. That could lead to some children and seats weighing a combined 69 pounds, but NHTSA says that's acceptable because manufacturers surpass strength requirements by enough to allow for this.

"LATCH was introduced to correct car seat installation issues and provide added safety benefits," the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association said in a statement Friday. "However, more than a decade later it has not been able to achieve success and this regulation will only further confuse and impede the proper installation and use of a vital safety device."

As parents are urged to keep children in child seats longer and children generally get heavier, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - at the urging of automakers - became concerned whether the anchors for child seats in cars could withstand all types of crash forces.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children stay in booster seats until adult seat belts fit correctly. That usually occurs when the child is from 8 to 12 years old. Some booster seats go to 120 pounds.

The new rule takes effect in a year, but some child seats already have the new labels and many will have them before the deadline.

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