Top tether symbolLower anchor symbol

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) is a system of attachment hardware for child restraints. Although child restraints can be installed properly by using vehicle safety belts, LATCH is intended to make correct installation easier. In addition, tether anchors are always needed when installing forward-facing restraints, regardless of whether the lower anchors or the safety belt is used. The top tether keeps the child seat from pitching forward in a crash.

IIHS research has shown that child restraints are more likely to be installed correctly when LATCH is used. However, not all LATCH is easy to use. Parents are more likely to install a restraint correctly when the vehicle hardware meets certain criteria. The Institute established its LATCH rating program in 2015 to encourage manufacturers to design LATCH hardware that meets those ease-of-use criteria.

LATCH hardware
Booster seat installed using LATCH hardware

Lower anchor and tether anchor locations in a typical sedan

Ratings criteria

When vehicles are rated for LATCH ease of use, IIHS employees assign each seating position a rating of good, acceptable, marginal or poor. The following characteristics are noted for the lower anchors:

  • Accessibility of lower anchors. Anchors located at a depth within the seat bight of about ¾ inch or less are considered easy to find. Slightly deeper anchors are OK if they can be easily reached without anything in the way.
  • Force. A special tool representing the lower connector of a child seat is used to measure the attachment force required. The force to attach this tool should be under 40 pounds.
  • Clearance angle. Anything greater than 54 degrees is considered easy to maneuver around.
LATCH testing
LATCH testing

A special tool is used to measure the force required to attach a connector to the lower anchor (left) as well as to measure the anchor's depth within the seat bight. Another tool measures the anchor's clearance angle (right).

When it comes to the tether anchor, evaluators look at the following things:

  • Location. Tether anchors should be on the vehicle's rear deck or on the top 85 percent of the seatback. They shouldn't be at the very bottom of the seatback, under the seat, on the ceiling or on the floor.
  • Confusing hardware. The area where the tether anchor is found doesn't have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor. If other hardware is present, then the tether anchor must have a contrasting label located within 3 inches of it.
Tether anchor
Tether anchor
Tether anchor

Tether anchors can be found in a variety of locations and sometimes are surrounded by other hardware, making installation confusing.

How ratings are assigned

Under existing federal regulations, most vehicles must have at least two rear seating positions with full LATCH hardware and a third with at least a tether anchor. IIHS ratings are based on the best two LATCH positions available in the vehicle's second row.

To earn a good rating, two LATCH positions must meet all five criteria, and a third tether anchor (if required) also must meet both tether criteria. For an acceptable rating, two LATCH positions must each meet at least 2 of the 3 requirements for lower anchors and at least 1 of the 2 tether anchor requirements. If either position fails to meet the tether anchor requirements or meets only one of the lower anchor requirements, then the vehicle is marginal. If even fewer criteria are met, the vehicle is poor.

A rating of good+ is awarded to vehicles that meet the criteria for a good rating and provide additional LATCH-equipped seating positions for maximum flexibility. For a two-row vehicle, that means having a third good or acceptable LATCH seating position. The third position may use either dedicated anchors or borrowed anchors.

For a three-row vehicle to earn good+, it must have one additional good or acceptable LATCH position (without borrowing) and tether anchors in all rear seating positions. The additional tether anchors must meet at least one of the two tether anchor criteria. If the vehicle has a second-row center seating position, it must have good or acceptable LATCH there (borrowing permitted).

What the ratings mean

The LATCH ratings are an indicator of how easy it is to achieve a correct, tight installation of a child restraint in a given vehicle when using the dedicated child restraint attachment hardware. As long as a restraint is properly installed, the LATCH rating doesn't have any bearing on safety. While it's difficult to achieve a good installation in a poor-rated vehicle, it's generally not impossible. In addition, children are just as safe in restraints that have been properly installed with vehicle belts as in restraints that have been properly installed with LATCH.