Insurance Org. Sees Record No. of Top-Rated Booster Seats

Parents have more top-rated booster seats to choose from than ever before, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) announced Thursday in releasing its annual evaluation of the child safety devices.

A record 31 seats are designated “best bets” this year—more than three times the number that earned the highest marks when the safety research organization, which is funded by auto insurance companies, began rating boosters in 2008.

Preschool age boy in a booster seatThe best bet designation “means any of these top-rated boosters should work well in the family SUV or the babysitter’s sedan,” Ann McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research, said in a news 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.”

Booster seats, which are used for children who have outgrown forward-facing child safety seats, are meant to elevate children in a vehicle so that lap and shoulder safety belts designed for adults will still properly restrain young passengers in a crash and minimize injury.

IIHS engineers looked at 62 models of booster seats this year and rated them according to how well they make safety belts fit, using a test dummy the size of an average 6-year-old. Because some seats can operate in either “highback” or “backless” mode, 21 dual-use boosters were evaluated twice, for a total of 83 ratings.

Thirty-one seats earned the top rating because they properly position a safety belt on an average 4- to 8-year-old in nearly any vehicle. Another five seats were considered “good bets,” meaning that belts will fit correctly in most vehicles.

IIHS advised consumers to avoid six models of booster seat that do not provide acceptable belt fit.

Forty-one boosters were included in the “check fit” category, meaning that they work well in some but not all vehicles. Parents using those seats should ensure that lap belts lie flatly across their child’s upper thighs and shoulder belts fit snugly over the middle of the shoulder, according to IIHS.

If the belts do not fit properly, the institute advises parents to pick another seat.

IIHS stressed that because its ratings are based on how belts fit rather than performance in an accident, no crash evaluations were conducted.

Engineers found that performance for many of the dual-use booster seats varied depending on which mode they were in, with 14 rated as best or good bets in highback mode but earning a check fit designation in backless mode.

Only one dual-use seat—the Harmony Dreamtime—earned the highest rating in both modes.

Officials say this year’s evaluations show a steady improvement since manufacturers started making use of IIHS testing information in their booster designs. The nonprofit organization rated 10 seats as best bets in 2008, nine the following year and 21 in 2010.

The trend toward safer booster seats is a reflection of the ongoing effort to ensure the safety of children in vehicles. Insurers—including some of the cheapest auto insurance companies—have long supported efforts to come up with the safest possible restraints for kids.

And earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) changed its guidelines on how long to keep younger children in rear-facing safety seats.

The academy now recommends that parents keep their toddlers in rear-facing seats until they are 2 or until they reach maximum height and weight recommendations from the seat manufacturer.

The policy amended earlier guidelines under which AAP had advised that infants and toddlers ride facing the rear of a vehicle until they were at least a year old or weighed 20 lbs.

That had led to many parents turning car seats around when their kids reached those limits. But APA says studies have shown that rear-facing seats do a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in the event of a crash.

AAP recommends that children who outgrow rear-facing seats transition into forward-facing seats equipped with harnesses before moving on to booster seats that ensure vehicle safety belts fit properly

A complete list of the IIHS rankings is available on institute’s website.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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