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Do I really need to tether my daughter's car seat?
January 9, 2009 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Do I really need the tether my daughter's car seat?

I'm installing my daughter's new car seat. She outgrew the infant seat, so I'm installing the rear facing child seat. I've got it attached to the built-in anchors at the base of the seat. Do I need to attach the tether that goes from the top of the seat to an anchor at the base of the rear window (behind the headrest)? I'm pretty sure none of my friends with kids are using the tether. Older cars don't even have the anchor anyway. Do you use the tether?
posted by diogenes to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total)
 
AFAIK you only use the top tether when the seat faces forwards. And in my experience this is the best way to install an infant seat anyways, with a growing child their legs will be in a very awkward position very soon, and I like being able to look at the back seat and see my child's face.
posted by Vindaloo at 7:47 AM on January 9, 2009


You need to follow the manufacturer's instructions when installing car seats. Each car is different and modern car seats are configured to fit in most cars. Your local fire station or police department can also help you with this.
posted by FergieBelle at 7:51 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Follow the your local laws and requirements, no matter what your friends do. As FergieBelle says, the police or fire dept will help you with this.
posted by rocket88 at 7:54 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


As far as rear-facing vs front-facing, this site has some good hard statistics to back up the reasoning for keeping the child facing to the rear as long as possible, period.

As far as this tether, I have no opinion other than just basic physics. An attachment of the seat at the front is subject to lever forces if there's an incident where the car stops short (ie, a crash). Obviously there's the seat belt level attachments as well, but I expect the tether is an effort to create a similar stabilizing point like the seat attachments but in the other direction.

Do you necessarily need it? Probably not. Depending on the severity of a crash it's possible you don't need those seat attachments either and the belt attachments would be sufficient. But any point of attachment is there to create a stabilizing force, just as we've moved from lap belts for adults to 3-point harnesses now.

Race drivers wear harnesses that attach at both shoulders for additional stabilization and there's people who get those for street cars as well. The Cartalk guys have pointed out several times on their show that we could reduce injuries in accidents if everyone wore motorcycle helmets while driving, and they once took a call from someone who said she and her husband wear bike helmets when driving; people look at them funny but they decided it was worth it for the sense of security.

The strap is, like all safety measures, a trade-off. The fact that older cars don't have the attachment is not really significant. There was a time when cars didn't have 3-point belts in the back seat and a point farther back when nobody had anything but lap belts.

It's your decision what if any measures to take. When I have a safety option available to me, my question to myself is usually more along the lines of "why wouldn't I use this?"
posted by phearlez at 8:04 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Agreeing with rocket88 -- Look up your local law maybe here before you turn it forward as Vindaloo suggests, and check with your local police or fire department station, who'll often do the installation for you or at least check yours. There's loads of articles out there for the Googling about how 4 out of 5, or 80%, or (whatever number really, I only checked quickly - but they're all up there) car seats are improperly installed - so the chances are your friends are doing it wrong too (and I mean that in the nicest way). It's getting the straps wound through properly and at the right height, the seat at the correct angle and the safety belt holding it tightened so that there's less than a quarter-inch of wiggle that's more important than the tethers or anchor, and it took a 200 pound officer kneeling in our seat while another clicked the belt in to get it that way. The child safety superstore we bought ours from installed it wrong, so I found when I took it to have it checked!

You don't mention the make of your car, or the model of the car seat - but some are more compatible than others. Even though our second-hand car (a '96 Cavalier) didn't come equipped for car seats to be tethered or anchored, the nearby Chevy dealership retrofit the car with what was needed at no charge. They also insisted (rightly, as it turned out, according to the Police Officer) that the tether and anchor for the child seat needed to be installed in the centre, as the potential for injuries from side impacts are lessened when the seat is positioned there. Now that our daughter is ready for her booster, I'll be taking it back to get the anchors for her booster, though we're going to try it on the side now, and will get it checked too. We need to keep the car for another year or two - it's paid for!

It's a giant pain - every time I took out the seat for cleaning the cover I made an appointment to have it checked, until, after two years I was getting it right every time. But we live in a city of bad drivers with winter weather that calls for a lot of accidents, and though I haven't had so much as a fender bender in twenty-five years (knock um...laptop) - I'd feel really bad if something happened to our kid because of something within my control that I didn't do.

So, we do use the retrofitted tether now that it's forward-facing, and while you probably don't have to use it as you have the seat now - you should still check and do what's recommended for when you go forward-facing. We were told that not only could it involve tickets, demerit points and fines (in Ontario); but that in the event of an accident, our insurance may not provide coverage if it can be proved that the car seat was improperly installed (or recalled and not fixed, for that matter - check that out too!).
posted by peagood at 8:24 AM on January 9, 2009


Most people have their car seats installed wrong. No, really: install your seat, strap it in as tight as you possibly can and then take it to a Inspection Station and you'll probably discover that despite your best efforts, you're in the majority too.

Additional tether points help offset errors made in the other attachment points. I thought it was important enough that I had a tether anchor bolted into my older car.
posted by jamaro at 8:26 AM on January 9, 2009


I have the tether installed, but we are forward facing. As far as I know the tether is more important facing forward than rear facing - obviously follow the instructions in the car seat but I have never seen a tether in a rear facing seat described as anything but optional. Keeping the seat rear facing as long as possible is the best thing you can do.
posted by true at 8:35 AM on January 9, 2009


A friend of mine was recently in a 14-car pile-up on a major freeway while driving with his two small daughters. The younger of the two was in a car seat that was fastened in the manner you describe: attached to the anchors, but not tethered.

Her car seat flew forward from the impact, leaving the back seat and hitting the driver in the head. Had his head not stopped her trajectory, she would have been slammed against/through the windshield.

All passengers are okay, by the way, but he certainly makes sure to tether the car seat now. I imagine seeing your daughter become a projectile will do that to you.

I wouldn't chance it. Follow the directions to a tee.
posted by kaseijin at 9:10 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'll make an appointment to have the police look at it. I did that for the infant seat, but I was under the impression that the child seat wasn't as tricky. I was wrong!
posted by diogenes at 9:33 AM on January 9, 2009


Nthing the police/firestation looking at your install, and adding that my daughter was in her forward-facing, anchored but not tethered five-point harness car seat one day and I had to slam on the brakes and swerve really hard because someone had come into my lane. The seat belt unfastened and she was tossed across the van. She was not hurt, just scared out of her wits, and the dealer kept the car for a full two days and couldn't explain what happened. It never unfastened again. After that, that seat was always, always tethered.
posted by cooker girl at 9:57 AM on January 9, 2009


Forward-facing is miles less tricky to put in than rear-facing, but not worth doing early.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:57 AM on January 9, 2009


Please don't switch her to forward-facing yet, keep rear-facing as long as possible, baby and toddler necks aren't strong enough to handle a forward impact (the worst kind), so rear-facing is superior.

Back to the question - I have my son in a rear-facing convertible seat, and the tether goes in reverse to how (I think) you described it, it goes from behind his seat down to the floor and tethers to the rails of the front passenger seat (my car can't do centre install, so he's behind the front passenger). This holds the seat down in place int he event of a crash, so it can't rock forward or backwards - if you think about it, the LATCH or seatbelt install pivots around her feet if she is front facing - the tether holds the seat in place from both front and back. I found this page that probably describes it better than I can :)
posted by Joh at 9:57 AM on January 9, 2009


The key is to cinch the lap belt tightly on the bottom bars of the car seat, which many people do not do. The tether is a bit of a safety in this case. In a severe head-on collision the tether may be the difference between life and death, or injury vs. no injury. How important is that? Worth 15 minutes of your time? Look inside the trunk and make sure the bolt and washer are attached to solid metal, not just the fiber board rear window shelf.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:14 AM on January 9, 2009


I think Joh has it. The tether goes behind the child's head and not simply to the back of the car, so for a rear-facing seat it goes down to the seat rails of the front seats (driver or passenger). That's the way we did it with our infant seat. Here's some more information on tethers from The Car Seat Lady, a good resource in addition to the others mentioned already.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:19 AM on January 9, 2009


The Car Seat Lady site was helpful, especially the section about the LATCH system.

Apparently my wife bought one of the few brands (Britax) that allow use of a tether strap in the rear-facing position. I wish we had one of the brands that didn't use it. If 95% of them don't use it, then it probably doesn't make much difference, but now if I don't use it I'm going to feel bad.

Rear-facing: Typically ONLY the lower anchor belt is used when attaching a convertible seat in the rear-facing position using LATCH. In other words, most rear-facing convertible seats DO NOT use a tether strap. Exceptions include all of Britax's convertible seats and the Sunshine Kids Radian seats--these seats use both the lower anchors and the tether for rear-facing installation.
posted by diogenes at 10:50 AM on January 9, 2009


Exceptions include all of Britax's convertible seats and the Sunshine Kids Radian seats

Heh, we have a Britax and a Radian (we love both, and I've been particularly impressed with the Radian - very solid construction and some thoughtful features) both front facing now, but we tethered the Britax to the front seat rail when it was rear facing - Regardless of the actual safety benefits, I found getting the seats really solidy anchored (which is easier with the tether) gave us a little extra peace-of-mind.

N-thing the visit to the police/fire department - I was proudly one of the 20%, but that's because I'm a compulsive/obsessive instruction follower when building or installing anything.
posted by jalexei at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2009


If 95% of them don't use it, then it probably doesn't make much difference

No, that just means 95% of them meet the safety standards required by law, and yours exceeds them -- typically because it was designed for a market with stricter safety standards.

I drove my kids around for months, forward-facing, without the tether -- because I thought I was a genius and knew how it worked. Finally, I realized my mistake and installed them, and the difference in security of the seat was noteworthy. What had always seemed "good enough" was now impossible to shift around.

So follow the directions, have people double-check your work, and remember that the safest thing to do is avoid accidents in the first place, so slow down and turn off your cell phone and all that. I've even pulled over and waited for sketchy drivers to leave the scene before proceeding, just to be safe.
posted by davejay at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2009


OK, OK! I'll use the tether! You guys are like a super-ego that lives outside of my brain ;)
posted by diogenes at 12:00 PM on January 9, 2009


You know what else? When you tighten the straps of a carseat in the car, put your knee in the seat. Put a LOT of weight into the seat as you're tightening the straps. This is the single biggest reason that most carseats aren't installed properly. If they have ANY wiggle room - front and back or side-to-side - they're not installed correctly.
posted by nushustu at 2:01 PM on January 9, 2009


No, that just means 95% of them meet the safety standards required by law, and yours exceeds them -- typically because it was designed for a market with stricter safety standards.

I can't stress this enough. For future readers of this type of question, never, ever, ever assume a manufacturer stopped putting extra knobs, whistles and tethers on to a seat because it was 'as safe as it is going to be'. It is, every single time, because 'it is as safe as it needs to be' to pass legislation within the price/profit range they are marketing for.

No safety equipment manufacturer puts these things in for fun, either. If one seat is from a reputable manufacturer (Britax is well up there in that regard) has an extra feature, very much consider that it is there for a reason.

if you need any more guilt trips, this is your child. Having an extra support an not putting it in because you think you know something about crash dynamics means (unless you have worked in crash legislation and testing for upwards of 5-10 years) you are an idiot. Seriously, and in the nicest possible way. Why on earth would you take a chance with your child because the tether makes it 'a little bit inconvenient'.

People used to use that excuse not to use seat belts. 'Nuff said.

When you tighten the straps of a carseat in the car, put your knee in the seat. Put a LOT of weight into the seat as you're tightening the straps. This is the single biggest reason that most carseats aren't installed properly. If they have ANY wiggle room - front and back or side-to-side - they're not installed correctly.

This is also great advice. A solid car seat is far, far better than one that bounces on the cushions against the straps.

Incidentally, the discussion about 'wearing a crash helmet in a car is safer' is complete rubbish and really quite hideously dangerous advice. Without the proper restraints to support your body and head while wearing one (like a 6 point harness and a HANS device) just means that your unsupported head and woefully inadequate neck muscles just have an extra 5-7kg (11-15lbs) of mass to try and control when flapping around in an accident. Good luck with that. Professional racing drivers who specifically train their neck muscles can't do that. The Cartalk guys are hideously irresponsible condoning that advice and are using something less than 10% of the parameters to make that judgement. Further proof that they are merely knowledgeable talk show hosts, rather than experts on all things car.
posted by Brockles at 7:28 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I could favourite Brockles' comment 100 times over, I would. He's completely got it.


Apparently my wife bought one of the few brands (Britax) that allow use of a tether strap in the rear-facing position. I wish we had one of the brands that didn't use it. If 95% of them don't use it, then it probably doesn't make much difference, but now if I don't use it I'm going to feel bad.

You're going to *complain* about being inconvenienced in making your little girl as safe as possible? Wow. Just wow. I'll bite my tongue about the other "sacrifices" we make as parents to keep our kids safe, like never leaving her in the tub by herself, or cutting her food small enough so she doesn't choke. I just hope that you don't find them to be too much of a pain in the ass.

Britax seats are, in fact, probably some of the safest seats out there on the market. American carseat manufacturers are only just now starting to figure out that it's significantly safer to rear tether seats. Here's a page that has a bunch of links showing why it's much safer to keep your kiddo rear-facing for as long as possible.

This page shows various examples of where you can rear tether Britax seats. It's an old site, but the pictures are accurate.
posted by dancinglamb at 4:28 PM on January 10, 2009


I'll bite my tongue about the other "sacrifices" we make as parents to keep our kids safe, like never leaving her in the tub by herself, or cutting her food small enough so she doesn't choke. I just hope that you don't find them to be too much of a pain in the ass.

*Yawn*
posted by diogenes at 11:33 AM on January 12, 2009


I installed the seat in the rear-facing position with the tether attached to the seat track of the front seat. It's solid as a rock. I took it to the certified policeman, and he said I was one of the 5% that got it right. Booyeah!
posted by diogenes at 11:21 AM on January 13, 2009


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