If you are like every other parent out there, you celebrate when you can finally switch from rear facing to forward facing. The downside? With the move there is a reduction in safety (more on this in an upcoming post) and another complicated car seat install.

We’ve all seen the hilarious YouTube videos of Moms and Dads trying to get their kids car seats installed. Its hard! There are so many parts – straps and buckles and latches and safety harnesses… The scary fact though is according to NHTSA, three out of four car seats are installed improperly. (NHTSA).

Let’s focus on the most overlooked car seat component;  the top tether.

A survey conducted by IIHS in 2013 noted that only 56% of car seats used the top tether. “Using the top tether for a forward-facing seat is a must, whether you use the lower anchors or the seat belt,” says Prom. “It stops the seat from moving forward by 6 or 8 inches and decreases the risk of head injury,” explains Prom. (NHTSA).

So, what is the top tether?

The top tether is a strap that connects from a child’s car seat to an anchor in the car.  It ensures that the car seat remains in the car should there be an accident.  It also ensures that the child does not move more than one inch, in either direction.

The anchor where the tether connects in the car is not always easy to find. In minivans and SUV’s, it may be located on the floor, or the ceiling. In sedans, the anchor is usually located on the back shelf behind the back seat. Its not uncommon for parents to attach the tether to an incorrect anchor either. A cargo hook has often been confused for the tether anchor and is not safe.

If your car doesn’t have the top tethers anchors, – some older models don’t – your car dealer may be able to retrofit them for any car manufactured 1989 or after. If you’re having trouble locating the tether and/or anchor location, check your car’s owners manual.

Once your child’s forward facing car seat is tethered, if it is tethered correctly, it should not move any more than an inch from side to side.

Fun Fact: In a pinch your local CPST can check your car sear installation for you and also offer free trainings on installation because as a new parent, any complicated process that can be handed off to a trained professional is a no brainer – especially if its both safer and free!

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