- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

Estimates vary, but the safety community calculates that anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of parents are doing something wrong in restraining children riding in the family car.
The problems parents have are not surprising. With more than 100 models of child seats and 900 models of passenger vehicles on the road, some child seats are incompatible with some vehicles, making it hard to anchor restraints firmly. Then there's the difficulty of threading the seat belt through the child seat to secure it properly.
The consequences are serious and sometimes deadly. But a federal regulation that requires a simple "universal" system for attaching vehicular child safety seats and keeping them more secure could change that.
The new rule requires forward-facing child safety seats to attach to vehicles in a new way: with three standard attachments, a tether on top and two anchors, or hooks, at the base. The rule also requires all new vehicles to have corresponding attachment points: two anchors in the fold where the vehicle's seat cushion and seat back meet and an upper tether anchor, generally on the package shelf behind the rear seats of most passenger cars. (In sport utility vehicles and minivans the tether anchor may be located on the floor or on the back of the vehicle's seat.)
Parents can then snap the special hooks built onto the child seat into the anchors, eliminating the need to thread the vehicle's safety belt through the child seat. Tethers are important because they can reduce the distance a child's head is thrown forward in a crash, lessening the likelihood that the child's head will hit something. The system is being referred to as Latch (lower anchors and tethers for children).
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation is being phased in, starting with tethers. For model year 2001 all vehicles are required to have the upper tethers, and all forward-facing child safety seats manufactured since Sept. 1, 1999, must have the upper tether and attachment.
The lower anchor system has been phased in more slowly, but all vehicles manufactured on or after Sept. 1, 2002, will be equipped with the complete system. All forward-facing safety seats manufactured on or after Sept. 1, 2002, must have the two lower attachment points.
Some child seat manufacturers are able to fit older car seats with the top tether. Some older model passenger cars may have predrilled holes that can be used for tether attachments and some manufacturers are beginning to offer retrofits. Volkswagen and Audi, for example, have announced free retrofittings. Contact the manufacturer of your vehicle and your child seat to see whether retrofitting is possible.
Worried parents who think they aren't using their car seats correctly or that they aren't anchored securely enough haven't had many resources available to help them. Fitting stations, where trained personnel inspect car seats to make sure they are installed and are being used correctly, are often one-time events. That situation is changing.
DaimlerChrysler's Fit for a Kid program offers permanent fitting stations at participating dealerships. This free service is available to all families, no matter what make or model vehicle they drive. Call toll-free 877/FIT-4-A-KID or visit the Web site at www.fitforakid.org.
The National Safe Kids Campaign, in partnership with General Motors, conducts free child safety seat checks at GM dealerships at various locations. Parents do not have to own a GM vehicle to attend. Call Safe Kids at 202/662-0600 or check its Web site, www.safekids.org.
The federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has child safety seat technicians that may be able to help. NHTSA's Web site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov, lists state contacts, or you can call NHTSA at 800/424-9393 or 888/327-4236.
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