Questions to Ask Before Buying a Family Car

Questions 5-8

5. What is the child safety seat "LATCH" restraint system?

LATCH is an acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. It is a standardized child safety seat attachment system, independent of the vehicle belt system, that simplifies child safety seat installation. This independent system has two lower anchorages and one upper tether anchorage. The LATCH system is designed to better stabilize the child safety seat and reduce the potential for head injury. All passenger vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2000 (except most convertibles), will be equipped with the top tether anchorage, and most forward-facing child safety seats will have top tether straps that attach to the vehicle tether anchors. The lower anchorage LATCH system requires vehicles to be equipped with anchorage points between a vehicle's seat cushion and seat back. Child seats can attach to the vehicle seat via these lower anchorages instead of being held by the vehicle's seat belts. This lower anchorage system is in most new cars, minivans, and light trucks as of September 1, 2002, and will greatly simplify child seat installation. In addition, as of September 1, 2002, all child safety seats must have two lower attachments that connect to the anchorage points. Although convertibles are exempt from tether anchorage requirements, some manufacturers offer them as a safety enhancement.

6. What does the LATCH system look like?

The LATCH system has one upper (tether) anchorage and two lower anchorages. The upper (tether) anchorage is a ringlike object, permanently attached to the vehicle. Depending on the vehicle, the anchorage may be located on the shelf or back of the seat, on the floor or on the ceiling. Each lower anchorage will be a rigid, round rod located where the vehicle seat cushion meets the seat back. On the child safety seat: Since September 1999, all forward-facing child safety seats were required to meet stricter head protection standards, likely resulting in the addition of a tether strap at the top of the child safety seat. This tether strap attaches to the upper anchorage or ring in the vehicle. Since September 2002, new child safety seats are required to have two lower attachments -- hooks, buckles or snaps -- that connect to the lower anchorages in the vehicle.

7. Which vehicles have the LATCH system?

As of September 1, 2000, all new passenger vehicles (except most convertibles) are equipped with the top tether anchorage. Ask your car dealer which new models are equipped with the LATCH system. Check your vehicle owner's manual to determine if your older vehicle has predrilled points where tether anchorages can be installed.

8. What about side air bags?

Side air bags, which are not required by law, provide additional chest protection to adults in many side crashes; some also provide head protection. Consumers should be aware that children who are seated in close proximity to a side air bag may be at risk of serious or fatal injury if the air bag deploys, especially if the child's head, neck, or chest is close to the air bag at the time of deployment. Since children 12 and under should ride in the backseat, you should not purchase a vehicle with an activated rear side air bag unless the manufacturer has determined that those side air bags pose no significant risk to children. Because there are variations in the design and performance of side air bags, check with the dealer or read the owner's manual for information and warnings about child passengers and side impact air bags.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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