Use of top tethers with forward-facing child restraints: Observations and driver interviews

  • Published: Journal of Safety Research, Volume 48, February 2014
  • Authors: Angela H. Eichelberger, Lawrence E. Decina, Jessica S. Jermakian, Anne T. McCartt
  • Date Added: 07 Dec 2015
  • Last Update: 31 Oct 2016
  • Format: pdf


To identify why parents do not use the top tether when securing their child car restraints.


A survey conducted primarily at shopping centers, recreation facilities, child care facilities, car seat check events, and health care facilities in which drivers were asked about their knowledge and use of top tethers and experience with child restraints. Tether use was observed to verify whether tethers were being used correctly.

Key Findings

  • In the USA, LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is a system for attaching child restraints to vehicles.

  • The LATCH system has lower attachments on child restraints that connect to anchors built into the vehicle, and a top tether that attaches the child restraint to an anchor on the rear shelf, seat back, floor, cargo area, or ceiling. The lower attachments are designed to replace the vehicle seat belt as the primary attachment to the vehicle, but the top tether should be used when installing a forward-facing restraint with either the lower attachments or the vehicle seat belt.

  • 479 drivers had forward-facing child restraints equipped with tether anchors in their vehicles 56% of forward-facing child restraints were installed with the tether; 39% were installed with the tether used correctly.

  • The tether was used with 71% of LATCH lower anchor installations and 33% of seat belt installations.

  • Drivers who installed child restraints without tethers most often said they did not know about the tether or how to use it.

  • The rate of tether use in the current study was slightly higher than in previous studies, but many parents and caregivers continue to use forward-facing child restraints without attaching the tether.

  • Tether use is particularly low with seat belt installations compared with LATCH lower anchor installations. This finding suggests that many drivers do not understand that the tether should be used with either type of installation.

  • Parents not using tethers most often said they did not know about tethers or did not know how to use them.

  • Because the main problem is lack of awareness of the tether or how to use it, public education should focus specifically on the safety benefits of tethers and how to use them.