Have you ever seen a strap on the back of your child’s forward-facing car seat and wondered what it was for? It’s called a tether strap and it has a very important purpose. According to a Safe Kids study, 64 percent of caregivers were not using the tether strap to secure their child in the forward-facing position, mistaking it as an optional feature. There has been a lot of progress in many areas of car seat use, but use of the tether remains an area of needed improvement.
What is a tether strap?
A tether strap is a single seat-belt-like strap that connects the rear of a child safety seat to an anchor point on the vehicle behind the seat. They are typically clipped by a hook to the back of the safety seat behind the child’s head on convertible, combination or forward-facing only-seats. These straps reduce the forward motion of a child’s seat in a crash, in turn reducing the forward motion of a child in the forward-facing position. Without use of a tether strap, a child’s head may strike the seat in front of them, the vehicle console or other occupants in a crash.
How do you use it?
A tether strap is a separate piece of equipment, so it can be attached to the tether anchor in any compatible vehicle or safety seat. Use the tether with either the seat belt or the lower anchors but never both.
A tether anchor may look like a loop or ring, and may be located behind the vehicle’s seat, on the inside of the headliner or other locations. Clip the tether strap to the anchor, making sure it extends properly to the rear of the safety seat. Once attached, tighten it to remove any slack. Make sure the lower anchors or seat belt are also tightened.
In a NHTSA study, 17 percent of forward-facing seats were found to have been installed too loosely, moving two inches or more at the belt path. The best practice is for the seat to not move more than one inch when tested at the belt path.
Where is the tether anchor located?
Check your vehicle owner’s manual to determine where the tether anchors are located. Make sure you aren’t actually using a cargo hook. Cars manufactured in the 2002 model year and later will have at least three tether anchors in the rear seating area. If you have an older vehicle, you may have to have your vehicle retrofitted with a tether anchor. Contact your vehicle manufacturer for more information.
Remember: If using the lower anchors and tether in the forward-facing position, there is a 65-pound weight limit. If your child’s weight is higher than this, switch to the seat belt and tether combination. If you are ever unsure about the installation of your car seat, visit a Car Seat Fitting Station and have a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician check your seat. The peace of mind you’ll gain from learning about proper installation will be worth the trip.