Sunshine Kids Radian XT SLOver a year ago we asked, “What Would You Do?”  Using LATCH beyond 40 pounds has been a major industry issue that has gone without resolution for years.  Now, Sunshine Kids has an answer.  Will it set the trend and ultimately resolve the problem or will it just complicate LATCH even more?

For almost a decade, we’ve known that the issue of LATCH weight limits would be a problem.  The 8o pound rated Britax Husky has been around since 2002.  Since then, every year, at every conference, the question has been asked to experts from the automobile and child restraint manufacturers.  “Why can’t I use LATCH after 40 (or 48) pounds?”  Even better, “My child restraint instruction manual says I must use a top tether for higher weight children, but my vehicle manufacturer says I can’t, what do I do?”  The answer to these questions?  It’s always the same.  “We are working hard to resolve these issues, give the manufacturers time to come up with a good solution.”  Or, “There is a technical working group studying the problem and they will have recommendations soon.”

No solutions or answers ever came.  I doubt they will in the forseeable future.  This is a huge problem that simply hasn’t been addressed by the industry or NHTSA.  Until now.  Sunshine Kids has released their new Super LATCH system.  Essentially, they’ve strengthened their LATCH system hardware, including the webbing (now called Steelweave, though there’s no steel in it), the attachment and the adjuster.  Combined with the metal frame of their Radian SL series shells, they claim it can be used with LATCH to 80 pounds in any vehicle made after September 1st, 2005. 

Let’s take a look.  Here are a few photos that compare the hardware from the previous Radian models and the new Radian SL models:

Sunshine Kids Radian SL LATCH sideSunshine Kids Super LATCH frontSunshine Kids Super LATCH Comparison

 

As you can see, the new versions are quite different than the old versions.  They appear larger and more robust.  In addition, they are all made in-house by Sunshine Kids, rather than being made by IMMI, an independent industry leader in harness components.

So what do we think?  Obviously, it’s about time that someone decided to tackle this issue that has been all but ignored for far too long.  Seriously, how many parents even know that they shouldn’t continue to use LATCH beyond 40 or 48 pounds?  Even if they do know, how many choose to continue to use LATCH, for whatever reason?  As with other innovations, like built-in lockoffs or side impact protection, it always takes a leader to set the bar for other companies to follow.  I certainly hope automobile manufacturers and child restraint manufacturers take notice.  Parents really need a consensus on this issue and there needs to be a standard that makes it easy for parents to keep their kids safe.

In the mean time, there are questions.  Is it *really* safe to use LATCH until 80 pounds?  What if the automobile manufacturer says something to the contrary? For technicians, what do you do if the guidance in the LATCH Manual suggests otherwise?  These are important questions.  We don’t have answers, yet.  For now, a parent has to make the choice on who to trust if there is conflicting information.  This is not a good situation for the parent or the technician. 

There are some precedents for confusion.  Rear-facing tethers created a lot of confusion when introduced to the USA, and still do today.  Minimum weight limits for front- and rear-facing models are all over the map.  Some infant carriers allow the handle to be up in the car, others don’t.  While we like to keep things uniform to make issues clear to parents, we also recognize that consistency in message should not stand in the way of innovations that will keep kids safer.  Super LATCH is one of those issues. 

As always, the most consistent and correct thing we can tell technicians and parents is to read the manual.  If there is a conflict from vehicle to child restraint owners manuals, then you have to instruct the parent to make a choice based on what you can teach them and based on what they can learn elsewhere.  While we all hope a standard will eventually be set, we also respect that the goverment rarely acts fast enough to make a needed standard.  That means someone has to take the first step.  For that, we commend Sunshine Kids for Super LATCH.