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LATCH key to child safety seats

A new federal regulation that took effect Sept. 1 could make child safety seat installations easier, and therefore safer.

The regulation requires all new passenger vehicles to have the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system.The system, which enables child safety seats to be installed without using the vehicleŽ’s safety belts, consists of two metal bars where the seat back and seat cushion meet in rear seats, and a top tether for forward-facing seats. The safety seat is attached to the metal bars by hooks located on the back of the car seat.

All new child safety seats are required to have LATCH attachments.

The new requirements donŽ’t mean that current car seats must be replaced with the LATCH system. Ž“Not at all,Ž” said Jennifer Harbison, AAA WashingtonŽ’s safety technician. Ž“You can continue to use your current car seat with your vehicleŽ’s seatbelts. Or, you can purchase a retrofit kit that will allow you to use your current car seat in new cars, which may be helpful for families that frequently switch their car seats between vehicles.Ž”

LATCH makes it easier to install child seats correctly, reducing the high percentage of seats that are misused, Harbison said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of traffic fatalities for children under 15 dropped 8.6 percent in 2001. Improved child passenger restraint laws are credited for the decrease, but traffic accidents are still the leading cause of death for children. AAA estimates that if all children under 15 were properly restrained, over 5,200 lives could be saved in the next 10 years.

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