photoChildren’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the leading institutes on children’s safety issues, recently published a blog post, Over the Top- The case for the tether, about the importance of top tethers. CHOP conducted a study that found, not surprisingly, that top tethers are pretty darn important things.

We already know that tethers reduce head excursion in properly installed seats. This study examined how top tethers affect incorrectly installed seats, too. The results showed that, combined with a loose seatbelt installation, top tethers still reduced head excursion. When combined with a belt misrouted through the wrong beltpath, top tethers reduced forward rotation of the car seat.

Obviously, a properly installed seat is ideal, but with more than 80% of seats installed incorrectly, maybe it’s good to have a “second line of defense,” as CHOP put it.

NextFit tethered   Britax Pavilion tethered in Ford Freestar  top-tether-anchor- ceiling

The problem we face, though, is that tethers are no longer the easy answer they once were. Changes in LATCH requirements are leading many vehicle manufacturers to change their LATCH limits, and some are including top tethers in those limits. That means that in some vehicles, you must discontinue top tether use once a child reaches 40 pounds. Other vehicles have higher limits or none at all for top tethers, but this information often isn’t available to consumers, and manufacturers themselves often seem unsure of the answer.

SafeKids, the certifying body of American CPSTs, has made things “easy” by stating that we must not use top tethers beyond 40 pounds unless otherwise allowed by the manufacturer. Gone are the days of telling parents to use top tethers whenever anchors are available.

I realize that LATCH is confusing. The aim of new regulations is to make things easier, but easy isn’t always better. Top tether use shouldn’t be limited in order to make things uniform or to protect manufacturers from theoretical liability. Given what we know of the benefits of top tether use, it should be limited only if there are known disadvantages, and so far no one has come forward with those.