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Federal Agency: Proper Use of Child-Safety Seats Is Essential

Parents of young children should heed a new federal warning about child-seat safety.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to require child-seat manufacturers to inform parents not to use lower seat anchors if the combined weight of the child and the seat exceeds 65 pounds. The lower anchors are part of the LATCH system, which the agency began to require under a federal rule in 2001. However, recent data shows that the anchors are not sufficiently strong to guarantee proper functioning for heavier loads in the event of a car accident.

Parents should note the weight of the child seat, which typically ranges from 15 to 33 pounds. If adding the child to the seat pushes the weight past the 65-pound limit mark, parents should avoid using the lower anchors.

Child safety advocates petitioned the agency to make this change, arguing that the older rule was out of date due to changes in car and child-seat technology and manufacturing. While the new rule may help parents recognize the dangers of a too-weak lower anchor, many say the agency should also call for manufacturers to produce stronger, safer anchors.

Faulty anchors and a poor understanding of the proper use of the LATCH system can lead to tragic consequences. Statistics show that parents are often unfamiliar with safe child-seat practices. Only 30 percent of parents properly use lower anchors and top tether straps. In the event of an accident, these mistakes can lead to serious injury or even death.

While agencies like the NHTSA have pushed for safer seats, it's clear that more action is needed to require manufacturers to build safe designs and advise parents on proper use. Experts recommend that parents strap their children to car seats with harnesses until age eight. However, it's equally important that parents demand good information from manufacturers in order to use the equipment properly.

Manufacturers who produce faulty equipment or fail to warn of the dangers of faulty equipment may be liable for injuries to children who use seats equipped with the LATCH system. Parents should seek consultation from an experienced products liability attorney if their child is a victim of a faulty or defective safety seat. They may be entitled to compensation in a personal injury or wrongful death action.

Source: USA Today, "Child seat requirements change with 2014 rule," Jayne O'Donnell, June 7, 2012

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