The latest highway safety survey for child booster seats shows a breakthrough in an elusive feature: good safety belt fit for 4-to-8-year-old children.
The recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety booster seat ratings show out of 53 new models from child seat manufacturers, 48 earn the top rating of “BEST BET”. The high standard means the seats provide a good belt fit for almost any car, minivan, or SUV.
“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.”
Two seats in the ratings are listed as “Not Recommended” – meaning they do not provide a good enough fit to keep children safe and should be avoided. Both seats – the Cosco Easy Elite and the Cosco Highback 2-in-1 DX – are brand new models by Dorel Juvenile and can still be found on store shelves.
“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”, and these latest setbacks will likely send them back to the drawing board. Both new models tested with an “unacceptable lap belt fit.”
In contrast, another company – KidsEmbrace – responded to the “Not Recommended” rating it got for the company’s Fun-Ride Backless Batman seat in 2014 by taking it off the market until this year, when it was redesigned as a “BEST BET”.
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.
Top-rated boosters are available in all different price ranges. This year’s most affordable “BEST BET” seat 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.
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.