Child restraint strap overlooked, misunderstood

A simple strap meant to prevent a child restraint from tipping forward in a crash is ignored by many parents. It is called a top tether, and a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that it is used only slightly more than half the time, according to an article in the April 2013 issue of Status Report. When parents neglect to attach the tether, it is most often because they don’t know it exists.

The IIHS’s article explains that tethers are part of a child restraint attachment system called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH. The system is designed to make it easier to correctly install a child restraint. All forward-facing child restraints made since 1999 have a built-in top tether that needs to be attached to an anchor on a vehicle’s rear shelf, seat back, floor, cargo area or ceiling. The tether is typically located just behind the upper back of the child restraint.

Top tethers are designed to be used with all forward-facing child restraints, whether they are secured by safety belts or with the lower anchors.

“Top tethers help prevent head and neck injuries for children in forward-facing restraints, but many parents don’t realize they are supposed to use them,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research.

In the new survey, certified child passenger safety technicians observed the top tether in use 56 percent of the time, more often than seen in previous studies, according to the IIHS. The most common reason drivers cited for not using the tether was that they didn’t know their child seat had one. Nearly a quarter of drivers surveyed said this was the case. Fifteen percent didn’t know how to use the tether, and 10 percent were unsure where to attach it. Thirteen percent said they were in a hurry or didn’t have enough time.

When tethers were used, 31 percent were installed the wrong way. The most common kinds of misuse involved loose straps, incorrect routing and twisted straps. These findings are in line with a 2012 LATCH study by IIHS and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

For help, parents should consult the owner’s manual for the child restraint as well as the vehicle manual to see how to route and attach the tether, McCartt advises. Nearly half of drivers who used tethers had read the child seat manual. Child safety checkpoints are a good source for hands-on assistance. (Go to to find an event.)

Child safety seat clinics, coordinated by the Traffic Safety Board and local police agencies, are held periodically throughout Franklin County.

Thanks go to the IIHS for much of the information contained in this article. This is a great source of highway safety and can be found at

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board’s website at and click on “Traffic Safety Board” under “departments”; then look for “Did You Know” articles under “services.”