By Mike O’Neill
DEARBORN, Mich., Sept. 4, 2002 (FCN) — Most parents try to do what’s right when securing their infant or toddler inside a motor vehicle, but how to do so has often been confusing.
Child safety seats have been secured using a vehicle’s seat belt system. That has prompted much of the confusion according to Kelley Adams, a Ford Motor Company safety programs engineer.
“Different manufacturers and different models within one manufacturer have different ways of locking the safety belts,” she said.
As of this month, though, parents will find a universal standard for tethers with the LATCH system, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. The system is intended to facilitate the attachment of car seats in vehicles.
“Ford was the first domestic manufacturer to have LATCH in its vehicles with the 2000 model year Windstar and the 2000 model year Focus. And as of September 1 of this year, the system will be available on all of our vehicle lines,” Adams said.
The LATCH system incorporates universal rigid, metal anchoring points in the vehicle seat bight (where the seat back and cushion meet), providing a secure and easy installation of the child car seat. The child safety seat is connected directly to the metal anchor points in the second and third row seats of the vehicle rather than using vehicle belt systems to tether child car seats.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that the LATCH system will eliminate as much as half of the misuse associated with the improper installation of child safety seats.
“Until now, the misuse rates have ranged from about 80 to 90 percent,” said Adams.
That rate includes both seats that were not properly installed as well as cases where the child was not properly restrained within the safety seat.
“We hope that misuse will be minimized because of the new system,” she added.
However, parents need to remain vigilant about the other issues involved with installing a child seat to keep children safe when they travel.
“While LATCH simplifies one issue, there are three parts to fitting a seat,” said Paul Butler, principal research engineer for Occupant Safety at Ford’s Automotive Safety Office. “The child must fit snugly in the seat, the seat must fit snugly in the vehicle and the seat must be used correctly every single time.”
Ford Motor Company also advises parents to graduate children into booster seats when they weight 40 pounds and until they reach 4’9″ in height. Ford is currently giving away 1 million booster seats through its Boost America! program. Because boosters are used to properly place the lap and shoulder belt on a child’s hips and collarbone, they are not installed like a child seat and do not employ the LATCH system.
According to NHTSA, proper use of the LATCH system is expected to save up to 50 lives a year and prevent close to 3,000 crash injuries.