Please Check Your Car Seats for this Common Installation Error

A few weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook that really made me sit up, pay attention, and take action to ensure the safety of my children in their car seats. This post was bringing attention to an installation error that can be a serious safety issue if your child weighs more than 35 to 40 pounds.

Most of us have our car seats installed using the lower universal anchorage system (LUAS), also known as lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH system) in the US. These are the metal anchors in the crack of the back seat onto which clip special connectors on the base of the car seat.

The owner’s manual for your car seat will tell you that if the LUAS system is available, it is the preferred method of attachment. We dutifully attached our seats using the LUAS system, tightened the upper tethers, and figured we were good to go.

Whaddya Mean She’s Not Safe??

Fast forward to today when my oldest weighs in at 42 pounds. She is well below the weight and height limit for the car seat so of course she’s safe, isn’t she? Well, as it turns out her car seat is now incorrectly installed. What???

Thankfully for my family, I saw this blog post at an opportune time. It seems that the LUAS system has a recommended weight limit of about 60 pounds. This includes the child’s weight AND that of the car seat. Seeing as how most car seats weigh about 20 – 25 pounds, this leaves 40 pounds or less for the child.

This Surely Cannot Be True

When I read the article I convinced myself that it couldn’t possibly be true. How could something this important not be common knowledge? I marched myself out to the car and looked at the side of one of the car seats. Sure enough, right there in the fine print it states that once the child reaches 40 pounds the car seat should be secured using the seat belt.

I was completely shocked. I had never heard this and I know I am not the only parent to be in this boat. Next I pulled out the owner’s manual for the car seat. I looked, and looked, and looked some more. Finally on page 32 of the manual I found a warning about this issue. Unfortunately the warning was back in the section telling you how to install the car seat using the seat belt. I never read that far as our vehicles have the LUAS system and in this section it clearly states that this is the preferred method of attachment. Wow.

Look Out, I’m Mad Now – No Crash Test Dummies in This Family

Needless to say I braved the mosquito-on-steroid attacks that evening and figured out how to install the seat using the seat belt. When I came back inside my ire was up. Well, admittedly that may have had something to do with all the mosquito venom in my system, but I was really upset that so many children are potentially being put at risk over something completely preventable.

Upon doing a bit more searching, I found this article answering the question as to whether there have been any reported issues with the LUAS/LATCH system failing. Fortunately there are no reported cases of child injury or fatality due to the system being unable to support a bigger child in the event of a crash. However, in the crash testing lab, there have been failures of the lower anchors. Granted, these failures were with much heavier children, but in my book if the car manufacturer states a weight limit I’m sticking to it. I don’t want my child being the crash test dummy in this case.

The NHTSA and Transport Canada are Aware – Why Aren’t We?

So why is no one aware of this issue? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US mandated that as of February 2014 all manufacturers must clearly state on the car seat the limit on the child’s weight for using the LATCH system. Well, if something catastrophic should happen, hiding behind the “read the fine print” excuse is, in my opinion, reprehensible.

Surprisingly Transport Canada recommends using both the LUAS and the seat belt simultaneously if your child weighs 40 pounds or more.  This contradicts the information in the car seat owner’s manual which states to only use one or the other, but at least there is some kind of heads-up there on the weight limit.

In both cases I really had to dig around to find this information, which of course I never would have done had I not been made aware in the first place.  This leaves us concerned parents with but one method to spread the word – one ear (or Smartphone) at a time. Please help me make other parents aware of this issue by sharing this post far and wide, then maybe I’ll be able to sleep better at night.