ARLINGTON, Va. — The latest booster seat ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that child seat manufacturers have mastered something that once eluded them: building a seat that provides good safety belt fit for the typical 4- to 8-year-old passenger.
Out of 53 new models evaluated, 48 earn the top rating of BEST BET, meaning they are likely to provide good belt fit for a 4 to 8 year-old in almost any car, minivan or SUV. When the Institute first began rating boosters in 2008, only a quarter of the seats evaluated earned the BEST BET designation.
Despite this progress, several seats that don’t do their job and are rated Not Recommended can still be found on store shelves. They include two brand new models from Dorel Juvenile.
“Parents looking for a safe option for kids who have outgrown seats with built-in harnesses have more choices than ever,” says IIHS Senior Research Engineer Jessica Jermakian. “Unfortunately, we can’t declare total victory because manufacturers continue to sell subpar boosters.”
Of the 53 new seats, the Cosco Easy Elite and the Cosco Highback 2-in-1 DX — both made by Dorel — are rated Not Recommended. Three other seats, the Britax Parkway SGL in backless mode, the Lil Fan Club Seat 2-in-1 in highback mode and the Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 — are rated Check Fit, meaning they may work for some children in some vehicles. The remaining new seats are BEST BETs.
When all currently available boosters, including old models, are taken into account, there are 118 BEST BETs, nine GOOD BETs (seats that provide acceptable belt fit in most vehicles), 27 Check Fit and five Not Recommended. Go to iihs.org/boosters for complete ratings.
Booster seats are designed for children who have outgrown harness-equipped restraints. By elevating a child, a booster ensures that a vehicle belt designed for an adult fits properly. Children ages 4-8 are 45 percent less likely to sustain injuries in crashes if they are in boosters than if they are using safety belts alone.
Children should ride in boosters until a vehicle safety belt fits correctly by itself. For some kids, that doesn’t happen until age 12 or so. Correct fit means the belt lies flat across a child’s upper thighs, not across the soft abdomen, and the shoulder belt crosses snugly over the middle of a child’s shoulder.
IIHS began its booster rating program after finding that many seats didn’t consistently provide good belt fit. The ratings are based on evaluations of how three-point lap and shoulder belts fit a child-size test dummy seated in the booster on a stationary test fixture. Measurements are taken under four conditions spanning the range of safety belt configurations in passenger vehicles. The evaluations focus on belt fit and don’t involve crash tests.
The two new Not Recommended models provide unacceptable lap belt fit.
“Dorel has a long history of producing BEST BETs, and this year alone the company introduced seven of them,” Jermakian says. “It’s disappointing that they would introduce boosters that don’t do their job when they clearly know how to do it right.”
This year, the company discontinued three older models that were Not Recommended, but that positive step was essentially canceled out by the new Not Recommended models.
In contrast, another company, KidsEmbrace, responded to the Not Recommended designation of its Fun-Ride Backless Batman seat in 2014 by taking it off the market until this year, when it was redesigned as a BEST BET.
Of the Check Fit boosters, the Britax Parkway SGL is an interesting case. Like the old version, the redesigned seat provides good lap belt fit, but it lacks a clip to position the shoulder belt.
The typical plastic belt clip doesn’t look like much, but it plays an important role by adjusting the position of the shoulder belt, which should lie snugly across the middle of the child’s shoulder. If it falls off the shoulder or rests on the neck, it won’t work as well. An improper fit is uncomfortable and may encourage the child to move the belt to a dangerous position, such as behind the back or under the arm.
Top-rated boosters are available in all different price ranges. Of the boosters introduced this year, the most affordable is the Harmony Big Boost Deluxe, available at Walmart for less than $25. The most expensive is the $330 Graco 4Ever All-in-1 with Safety Surround, a rear-facing infant seat that converts first to a forward-facing child restraint and then to a booster as the child grows.
For more information, go to iihs.org
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries and property damage — from crashes on the nation's roads. The Institute is wholly supported by auto insure