Over the Top - The Case for the Tether

May 30, 2013
Top Tether use in SUV/minivan
Attach and tighten top tether to proper anchorage in a minivan

Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted in-person surveys of 479 drivers with forward-facing child restraints equipped with tether anchors. The study found that 56% of these restraints were installed with the tether, and 39% had correct installation of the tether. The drivers’ most common self-reported barriers to tether use were that that they did not know about the tether or they did not know how to use it.

In recent research funded by the Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies, we conducted full crash testing of forward-facing child restraints in the rear of the vehicle, and found that non-use of the tether resulted in visible greater head excursion (when combined with a loose belt) and greater forward rotation of the child restraint (when combined with a misrouted belt) when compared with just the belt misuse. This suggests that the tether serves an important role in securing the forward-facing seat, and may even be a ‘second line of defense’ to minimize the effects of other installation errors.

The child passenger safety (CPS) community has made great progress in the number of children restrained in child restraint systems over the past decade, with an estimated 85-91% of children under age 8 riding with a child restraint in 2011. We now have the important task of refining proper restraint by minimizing misuse. As we recommend children to be restrained rear-facing for longer, and with more convertible seats that can go from rear- to forward-facing, parents should be reminded that there are different installation practices for a seat depending on whether it’s rear- or forward-facing, including top tether use. Since the IIHS identified knowledge as the most common barrier (either of the tether itself, how to install it, or consequences of not using it), it is important that the CPS community emphasizes the significance of the top tether, in order to maximize the safety and minimize misuse.