NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Child booster seats are getting safer, according research conducted by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
A record 31 seats were designated “Best Bets,” since they correctly position a vehicle safety belt on a typical 4- to 8-year-old in almost any car, minivan or SUV. An additional five seats received a “Good Bet” rating, as they provide an acceptable fit in most vehicles.
The IIHS evaluated 81 boosters in the latest version of their annual study, 11 more than what was analyzed last year when only 21 seats received the “Best Bet” designation. In 2008, the first year in which the study was conducted, only 10 booster seat models were deemed “Best Bets.”
IIHS says the number of quality booster seats is increasing because manufacturers have responded to past rankings. This year, a total of 41 seats received a “Check Fit” designation, meaning they provide good fit for some children in some vehicles.
Booster seats are used to elevate children so that seat belts will fit them better. According to the IIHS, the lap belt should lie flat and on top of a child's upper thighs, not higher up on the abdomen. The shoulder belt should fit across the middle of a child's shoulder. If it falls off the shoulder or rests on the neck, a child might move the belt behind the back or under an arm.
In the study, researchers used a test dummy representing an average-size 6-year-old to assess the belt fit that resulted from each booster. They measured how lap and shoulder belts fit the dummy in each booster under four different driving conditions representing the range of belt configurations in real-world vehicles.
Six boosters are not recommended by the IIHS because they don't provide proper belt fit. These include the Evenflo Chase, Evenflo Express, Evenflo Generations 65, Evenflo Sightseer, Safety 1st All-in-One and Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite.
“While the IIHS report focuses solely on belt fit and not on crashworthiness, we stand behind all of our seats as they have been proven to protect children in real-world situations and real-world crashes,” a spokeswoman for Dorel Juvenile Group, which makes the Safety First models, said in a written statement.
A spokeswoman for Evenflo said, while the company appreciates IIHS’s efforts to educate parents, it does not agree with its findings.
“Evenflo’s own extensive fit studies are conducted with real children, not test dummies, in a variety of vehicles and have shown that when our instructions are followed, the lap and shoulder belts will provide the appropriate fit and protection for children of a variety of sizes,” the spokeswoman said in a written statement.
"Just four years into our ratings program, parents have a wide variety of top-rated seats to choose from," Anne McCartt, the IIHS’s senior vice president for research, said in a press release. "Still, boosters that don't consistently provide good belt fit outnumber the ones that do, so consumers need to keep paying attention to this issue."
The IIHS says prices for these top-rated seats range from less than $15 to several hundred dollars. You can find the full list of the IIHS recommendations on its website. (Note: Some seats appear on the list twice as they can operate as highback or backless boosters.)
Parents can also find pictures of how seat belts are supposed to fit as a result of using a booster seat.
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