The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced two changes designed to boost car seat safety. One has an immediate impact on how parents should be installing their child-safety seat. One won't affect you or your kid for a few years (by which time he may be in a booster). Both are welcome developments in reducing the risk factor for serious injuries.
First, effective immediately all new car seats must state on the label that the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system should only be used when the total weight of the child and seat is 65 pounds or less. Above that weight, the anchors may not effectively restrain a car seat in case of a sudden stop or an accident. The solution is easy: When the total weight exceeds that figure, use the car's seat belt as an anchor. The same guideline holds for whatever seat you're currently using. Since many safety seats are bigger and heavier these days, it's important to weigh yours (and your child) and crunch the numbers.
Federal regulators also plan to implement a new rule requiring child seats to withstand side-impact collisions of up to 30 mph. The new crash test will begin as early as this spring, complementing the front-impact tests that are already conducted on all car seats. Manufacturers will have three years to comply with the new standard, though hopefully many will do so sooner. NHTSA estimates that the cost of extra padding and/or wider wings will be a mere 50 cents per seat and will prevent 5 deaths and 64 injuries annually—a more than worthwhile tradeoff.
For now, your smartest move is to make sure your current seat is installed properly. That's not as simple than it sounds: Three out of four car seats are installed improperly. See if your local police or fire station has a certified inspector on site who can walk you through the process. Or check out these videos on installing a car seat and avoiding a potentially tragic mistake.
Ready to replace your old seat? Shop for a new one here.
Baby in a safety car seat via Shutterstock