Today, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released new ratings of child booster seats. The first of their kind, IIHS ranked boosters from those that performed as “best bets” to those that are “not recommended” based on the seat’s ability to correctly position a vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt for booster-age children, not on their performance in simulated crash tests. Unlike child restraints intended for smaller children that have internal harnesses, materials, and structures to restrain children and absorb crash energy, booster seats function as a positioning device to correctly place the child within the vehicle’s seatbelt system. It is the seatbelt that does the restraining with the boosters designed to position those belts across the stronger bony structures of the hip and clavicle/collar bone rather than across the softer tissue of the abdomen and neck.
IIHS, in conjunction with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), measured how the lap and shoulder belts fit a crash-test dummy representing the average size and weight of a six-year-old in each of 41 booster seat models. The booster seats were evaluated using a vehicle seat with lap and shoulder belts in a range of positions based on actual vehicle measurements. Though seatbelts are highly effective at reducing injury in a crash, those that are incorrectly positioned across the lap have the potential to cause injury to the abdomen if positioned too high and if they allow children to slide under them during a crash. Shoulder belts positioned too closely to the neck do not place the load ideally over the clavicle/collar bone but are also uncomfortable, which may cause children to hold the belt away from their neck or put the shoulder portion of the belt behind them, reducing the belt’s protection.
IIHS Best Bets
* Graco TurboBooster backless with clip
* Fisher-Price Safe Voyage backless with clip
* Combi Kobuk backless with clip
* Fisher-Price Safe Voyage
* Britax Parkway
* LaRoche Bros. Teddy Bear
* Safeguard Go backless with clip
* Volvo booster cushion
* Recaro Young Style
* Britax Monarch
Details of the ratings and how they were arrived at can be found at www.IIHS.org.
In making an assessment of which booster seats best fit children, IIHS provides an important and as yet unmeasured piece of the puzzle. Consumer Reports' Ratings include some of the seats also tested by IIHS and are based on our evaluations of how easy the seats are to use, how they fit in vehicles, and how they perform in a variety of simulated crash scenarios. Seats that we rate well and that also show as “good” or “best bets” in the IIHS evaluations provide the best potential for protecting a child in a crash. If you own a seat that falls into the “not recommended” category from IIHS, it’s more important to perform your own assessment of fit with your own child and car based on the steps outlined below.
But don’t forget some important points:
• Booster seats are an important step in child passenger safety and should not be overlooked. Although laws in most states now require the use of boosters for children not yet ready for using the vehicle belts alone, and research has shown them to significantly reduce the potential for injury and death, non-use is still higher than among other child restraint types. Often, children are in vehicles wearing only the seatbelts or are not restrained at all before they’re old or large enough to do so safely.
• Kids and cars come in all shapes and sizes. As IIHS points out, though the six-year-old dummy used in the study is designed to represent the average six-year-old in stature, it certainly does not represent all kids. Parents and caregivers should make a similar assessment of their own child in their own vehicle to determine if their booster seat is working as intended. Answer these questions to determine if your seat is providing the proper fit:
o Does the booster seat position the shoulder belt across the clavicle/collar bone, approximately mid-way between the neck and shoulder?
o Does the booster seat position the lap belt low across the hips/top of the thighs?
o Does either the booster seat or vehicle head restraint provide some support behind the child’s head?
o Is your child comfortable and not tempted to move the belts or themselves out of position after a period of time?
• Don’t rush to move your kids to the next step in terms of restraint use. Very often a step-up to the next level of restraint means a step-down in terms of overall safety .
• Regardless of how a seat rates, remember it is best for children to ride in any booster than to let them ride unbuckled or in the vehicle belts alone.