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Government Survey Shows Parents Confused About How to Use Child Safety Seats

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in a December 2006 survey that many parents are confused about the correct way to install child safety seats in their cars.

In 2002, NHTSA mandated that all new cars and child seats be built with locking attachments. The system, called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), was designed to make safety seats fit snugly and provide a method of attaching the seats without having to use a seat belt. LATCH was intended to simplify child safety seat installation, but the survey results prove otherwise.

According to the study results, approximately 40 percent of parents still use seat belts when installing a car seat. Safety advocates say that using seat belts to attach a car seat can lead to a loose fit. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that just 55 percent of parents use the top tether built into the vehicle’s back seat to help secure their children. Using upper tethers for child safety seats reduces the tilting or rotation of the seat during a frontal crash.

Although the 55 percent usage rate of the top tether represents a significant improvement compared with earlier surveys, many parents still are not properly protecting their children. The researchers also found that over half of the parents not using the upper or lower tethers said they did not know how.

Other key findings of the survey include:

·   Thirteen percent of respondents said their vehicle was not equipped with lower tethers so a seat belt had to be used to anchor the safety seat.

·   Among the 87 percent that use a child safety seat on a car seat with lower tethers, only 60 percent use them to secure the safety seat.

·   Eighty-one percent of upper tether users and 74 percent of lower tether users said the tethers weren’t easy to use.

·   Seventy-five percent of the respondents who have used both seat belts and lower tethers to secure a safety seat preferred the lower tethers.

The government recommends car safety seats be used for children up to 40 pounds. Children over 40 pounds should use booster seats until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. All children should ride in the back seat until age 13.