The LATCH System
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LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is known as ISOFIX in Europe and LUAS (Lower Universal Anchorage System) in Canada.
LATCH is a way to secure a child car seat to the vehicle using straps or bars from the child car seat that connect to special metal anchors in the vehicle. Child car seats may be installed with either the vehicle’s seat belt or the LATCH system. The special anchorages were introduced in vehicles manufactured from year 2000 onwards and are required by law in the USA for almost all model year 2003 and later vehicles.
LATCH consists of lower anchors and (top) tether anchors, which are built-in to your vehicle, and connecting hooks that are built-in to your child’s car seat.
Lower anchors are used instead of the seat belt to install the seat, and many parents find them easier and quicker to use.
The top tether improves the safety provided by the seat and is important to use in addition to the lower anchors for all forward-facing seats, even if using the vehicle's seat belt.
Is LATCH safer than the seat belt?
The use of a seat belt for securing forward facing seats can provide a perfectly safe option and where used correctly is as safe as using the flexible LATCH system. However, the LATCH system takes away some of the confusion, difficulty and uncertainty parents face when using the seat belt system.
A child car seat needs to be secured very tightly to the vehicle so that it moves no more than an inch in any direction when you pull or push hard on it. Achieving this using a seat belt to secure the seat is often a challenge as it can be difficult to get the seat belt to pull tight and stay tight when fixed. The LATCH system makes it easier to achieve a secure tight fit.
There are however two types of LATCH system, flexible and rigid. Rigid LATCH is when the lower anchor connectors are rigidly connected to the steel frame of the child’s car seat; this is in contrast to the flexible LATCH where the lower anchor connectors are sewn on to a flexible strap that you must tighten.
As the name suggests, with the rigid LATCH, the steel frame of the child car seat is rigidly secured to the steel frame of the car, which reduces almost to zero the side-to-side motion of the car seat in a side-impact. This reduction in lateral movement compared to the flexible LATCH (and seats restrained using a seat belt) allows better restraint of the child’s body within the shell of the seat and decreases the chance of the child’s body hitting a hard structure in the vehicle.
The rigid LATCH system can be found on a limited number of vehicles in the US, but is more common across Europe.
Rigid LATCH System
Where to find LATCH on your vehicle and child car seat
Parts of LATCH in your vehicle
Lower anchors are the metal bars located in the vehicle seat bight. Often they might not be immediately visible as they can be "buried" in the seat bight. You should consult your vehicle owner's manual to understand where your lower anchors are located in your particular vehicle. The lower anchor connectors on the child car seat connect directly to these metal bars.
A tether anchor is the spot in the vehicle where the car seat's tether is connected. Most vehicles manufactured from year 2000 have tether anchors installed at the factory. Vehicle owner's manuals often detail the locations of these anchors. The tether anchor could be located on the roof, on the floor, the rear of the seat itself, or on the shelf behind the rear seat, such as in sedans. In some cases the carseat's owner's manual may specify the orientation of the hook to be used when attached to the anchor.
Lower Anchors (photo: us.britax.com)
Tether Anchor (photo: us.britax.com)
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) launched ease-of-use ratings for LATCH hardware in vehicles in June 2015. Check out their latest ratings for LATCH ease of use in vehicles here.
The latest results marks a shift from 2015 where they found that in many vehicles LATCH hardware could be improved. Nearly three-quarters of 2019 vehicles have LATCH hardware that rates good or acceptable for ease of use. The takeaway from IIHS's research is that even with LATCH, installation isn't always simple, and errors are common. Although LATCH is meant to simplify child seat installations it doesn't always succeed. However, the ease of use has improved significantly in the last few years.
Parents often struggle to locate the anchors in the vehicle or find that it’s difficult to attach the seats to them. The Institute's LATCH ratings are intended to encourage vehicle manufacturers to pay attention to this equipment and continue to make improvements.
Parts on your child seat
The lower anchor connectors will be located on the lower part of your car seat. Be sure to read your car seat user guide to understand how your lower anchor LATCH connectors work on your particular seat.
The tether will be located on the upper part of the back of the car seat. Again, be sure to read your car seat user guide to understand how your tether works on your particular car seat. The adjustments for tether strap lengths also vary from car seat to car seat. Some are easy to change, with just a tilt or push of a button. Others are more complicated requiring adjustment of slider buckles. These straps need to be tightened so that the tether is tight and the top of the car seat is restrained from forward movement.
Lower Anchor Connectors (photo: us.britax.com)
Tether (photo: us.britax.com)
LATCH Installation Tips
- Check the lower anchor connectors and anchor weight limits of both your car seat and your vehicle before use - and go with the lowest number (often a maximum combined weight of 65 pounds for seat & child)
- If you cannot locate a weight limit for using LATCH in the car seat user guide or vehicle owner's manual, you should install your seat with the vehicle seat belt and car seat tether.
- Install the car seat with the car seat tether at all times, regardless of installation method (lower anchors or seat belt for forward-facing harnessed seats). Check the vehicle owner's manual and/or car seat user guide to determine if there are weight limits for top tether usage.
Check out the following reviews for child car seats incorporating the LATCH: