Boosting your knowledge: Which booster seats received top ratings for safety belt fit

If you’re like most parents, you probably found the world of child passenger safety to be a bit like walking into a big box baby store for the first time: completely overwhelming. 

You did research on which infant car seat to buy, consulted parents who had been down that road before, and even read the manual front to back.  But it was still tricky, right?  Then your kiddo enters the next phase which includes a convertible seat.  Rear-facing, forward-facing, LATCH installation, seat belt installation… You made it through that phase and breathed a sigh of relief when you realized your big kid is finally ready for a booster seat.  It’s got to be easier, right?  

That depends on how you look at it.

Child restraint manufacturers continue to roll out new booster seats that do a good job of improving the way an adult safety belt fits a typical booster-age child.  With more options comes – you got it – more research for what will likely be the last car seat your child needs, since car seats or booster seats may not be compatible with all cars.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently released its Booster Seat Status Report in an attempt to make it easier for you to figure out which seat provides the best lap and shoulder belt fit for your child in a range of vehicles. 

The lap belt should lie flat and on top of the thighs, not higher up on the abdomen. Courtesy: IIHS

The lap belt should lie flat and on top of the thighs, not higher up on the abdomen.
Courtesy: IIHS

Remember – cars are designed for adults.  According to IIHS, children ages 4-8 in boosters are 45 percent less likely to sustain injuries in crashes than kids restrained by belts alone.  Children who are using improperly fitted belts are at risk of a host of crash injuries known as “seat belt syndrome.”  These include spine injuries and internal organ injuries. 

Booster seat laws vary from state to state and it’s important to know what to do where you live.  In Arizona, booster seats are required for all children ages five to eight who are not taller than 4’9”.  Violators will receive a civil penalty of $50.

The shoulder belt should fit across the middle of the child's shoulder.  Courtesy: IIHS

The shoulder belt should fit across the middle of the child’s shoulder.
Courtesy: IIHS

Boosters help by elevating a child, and guiding the seat belt so that both the lap and shoulder belt fit properly.  That means the lap belt will lie flat across a child’s upper thighs, not across the soft abdomen, and the shoulder belt will cross snugly over the middle of a child’s shoulder – not too close to the child’s neck or too far down on their arm.  Having both the lap and shoulder belt in the proper place offers the best protection in a crash. 

It’s best practice to keep a child seated in the back seat in a 5-point harness for as long as possible, up to the height and weight limits of the seat.  Parents shouldn’t be in a rush to graduate their children to a booster seat.  There are seats on the market that accommodate children up to 90 pounds in harness mode.

The IIHS report, however, only looked at seatbelt fit, and did not involve crash tests.

Each booster seat tested was placed in one of four categories:

▪  BEST BETS are seats that provide good belt fit for typical 4 to 8 year-olds in almost any car, minivan or SUV.
▪  GOOD BETS provide acceptable fit in most cars, minivans or SUVs.
▪  Not recommended don’t provide good belt fit and should be avoided.
▪  Check fit applies to booster seats the Institute has tested that have varied results depending on child size and vehicle model.

Consumers can also search by brand.

In all, there are 58 BEST BET and five GOOD BET boosters for 2013.  “Parents should have an easy time finding a top-rated booster seat since there are more this year than ever before.  At the same time, consumers should continue to consult our ratings before buying because name brand, price and style don’t always equate with proper lap and shoulder belt fit,” said Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research.

Safe Kids Worldwide (SKW), a global organization that includes our local coalition, Safe Kids Pima County (SKPC), is dedicated to protecting children from unintentional injuries.  SKW issued a statement on the Booster Seat Status Report, saying it applauds the efforts of the IIHS:  “It is important to conduct a thorough evaluation of product safety and proper use of child seats for children of all ages, shapes and sizes.  Parents have a number of choices on how to protect their children when they are passengers in a vehicle.  This list of booster seats offers additional information to help parents check the fit of every seat, even those on the BEST and GOOD list, to be sure it is right for their child.” 

Tucson Medical Center (TMC) is the proud lead agency of SKPC.  For over six years, TMC has been the home of Boost Your Booty.  This program provides free booster seats for children five and older, so call today to make your appointment –  520-324-5604.

Before buying a booster, parents and caregivers should try them out to see if they properly position safety belts on their children in the vehicles they will be riding in.

Certified child passenger safety technicians are also available to help you.  Please click here to find one.

Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461