Should I Use a Seat Belt or LATCH?

Latch vs. SeatBelt

 

Correctly installing and using a child safety seat drastically decreases your child's risk of fatal injury in a crash. The infant mortality rate alone is reduced by 71 percent. Installing a safety seat will be easier if you familiarize yourself with the two installation methods: your vehicle's seat belt and LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system.

How do I know which one to use?

Refer to your safety seat's and vehicle's manuals to confirm which options are available to you. Experts recommend using the system that your owner's manuals recommend and that you will use correctly every time. If either option is available for your safety seat, this means the seat has been crash-tested with each system and is safe to install either way, as long as your vehicle permits.

If using the seat belt, be sure that you know how to convert the belt into an Automatic Locking Retractor by pulling out the belt all the way and then slowly feeding it back. The belt should make a clicking sound and tighten as it retracts. If your vehicle's model year is prior to 1996 it may not have this feature.

If using LATCH, ensure your vehicle has the metal loops that attach to the safety seat anchors. These loops should be present in any vehicle produced after 2002. Attach each anchor feeding through the appropriate belt path, then clip to the appropriate loop with the bigger side of the anchor on top and the smaller side on the bottom. Tighten each anchor securely.

Rear-facing safety seats

With a rear-facing seat, use either seat belt or LATCH. After securing the safety seat, test it to make sure it will not move more than one inch at the belt path.

If you have a convertible seat, check its labels to ensure you have used the correct belt path for the rear-facing position. If you have an infant-only seat, get comfortable with installing it both with and without the base.

Remove as much air as possible from the vehicle seat by pushing down on the safety seat as you install it. Recline the safety seat 30 to 45 degrees so that your infant's airway will remain clear and his or her head will not sit too far forward. Check your seat for the recline indicator that will confirm you have achieved the correct angle.

Forward-facing safety seats

With a forward-facing seat, use either the seat belt or LATCH along with the seat tether. Attach the tether to the back of the safety seat and clip it to the tether anchor behind the vehicle seat. Tighten the tether appropriately. Refer to your vehicle manual to ensure that you know where to find the tether anchor and that it is not a cargo hook. Once secured, test to ensure the safety seat does not move more than one inch at the belt path.

If you have a convertible safety seat, check its labels to ensure you have used the correct belt path for the forward-facing position. Remove as much air as possible from the vehicle seat by pushing down on the safety seat as you install it. Don't use the lower anchors in the forward-facing position once your child's weight and that of the seat reach a combined 65 pounds.

Remember to refer to both the safety seat's and vehicle's manuals for information on proper installation.