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FOR ALL who use car seats for smaller children and use the Latch System.
Car seat setup worries experts
Safety organizations encourage NHTSA to launch a probe of 'LATCH' system.
By Deb Kollars / Sacramento Bee
Safety experts nationwide are concerned about a possible unexpected and dangerous side effect of a new car seat anchoring system called "LATCH" after learning that a California child was nearly strangled by a seat belt while riding in her car seat.
The new LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system is required on most child safety seats and cars manufactured after 2002, but is not yet in widespread use.
The LATCH approach uses a set of hooks and straps, called tethers, on the safety seat that are attached to bars and hooks embedded in the vehicle seats. The system does not use a vehicle's lap-shoulder seat belts, which are left hanging free.
On March 8, 3-year-old Kaitlin Sipes of Rancho Murieta, Calif., was nearly strangled to death by one of those unoccupied seat belts. The child survived and is fine, but her experience has prompted several pediatric and passenger safety experts to recommend that parents consider locking seat belts behind car seats when using LATCH to deter children from playing with loose belts.
"I'm afraid we didn't expect this," said Stephanie Tombrello, who heads SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., a national nonprofit dedicated to child passenger safety. "LATCH is so new, not many kids have been exposed to it yet. But this obviously is a major problem and needs to be addressed immediately."
She and others stressed, however, that the LATCH system itself is safe and still should be considered a highly secure method of anchoring a car seat.
The California incident occurred just 23 days after a boy in Lancaster County, Va., was strangled by a lap-shoulder seat belt in a parked vehicle, said Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Cars, an organization dedicated to preventing child deaths and injuries in and around cars. The boy, who was about 3, was watching a movie in the back seat and somehow got his neck hooked in the belt, Fennell said.
"It kept ratcheting and ratcheting and he died," she said, adding that his parents were standing nearby but did not realize what was happening.
When Fennell heard last week about the near-strangulation of Kaitlin Sipes, she began alerting safety groups across the country. Several called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate the potentially hidden danger.
Liz Neblett, a spokeswoman for the safety administration in Washington, said her staff would review the issue. "The LATCH system has been an effective tool for a very short time," she said. "This is the first we've heard of this."
The incidents should serve as a reminder to parents to never leave a child unattended in a car, said Dr. Denise Dowd, who serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention Committee. http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0504/06/A10-140896.htm