PRESS RELEASE: When IIHS began its booster seat ratings in 2008, most models failed to consistently provide good belt fit — the main purpose of a booster. This year, all new models evaluated by the Institute provide good or acceptable fit for typical 4 to 8 year-olds in most cars, minivans and SUVs.
Out of 23 new models evaluated, 20 earn the highest rating of BEST BET, meaning they are likely to provide good belt fit for a 4- to 8-year-old child in almost any car, minivan or SUV. An additional three models are rated GOOD BETs, meaning they provide acceptable fit in most vehicles. There are no new models in the Not Recommended category, nor are there any with the Check Fit designation, which identifies seats that may work for some children in some vehicles.
“Our ratings have succeeded in getting child seat manufacturers to prioritize belt fit when they design boosters,” says Jessica Jermakian, IIHS senior research scientist. “The large number of BEST BETs on the market now makes it easier for parents to shop for a seat that will work for their child in virtually any vehicle.”
Booster seats are designed for children who have outgrown harness-equipped restraints. 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. Boosters serve as an important bridge until children are large enough for vehicle safety belts to fit properly by themselves. For some kids, that’s not until age 12.
Until then, booster seats should be used to make safety belts fit correctly. 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 issuing booster ratings after finding that many seats didn’t consistently provide good belt fit (see Status Report special issue: booster seats, Oct. 1, 2008). 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.
In addition to providing useful information for consumers, the ratings help manufacturers understand how to design seats for optimal fit. Most now use the Institute’s evaluation protocol in their design process, and many have traveled to the IIHS Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Va., to try out their prototypes on the test fixture.
The Institute’s online ratings include many models that were evaluated in past years and are still on the market. Including the 2015 crop, as well as carryover models, there currently are 82 BEST BETs and eight GOOD BETs. Six boosters are Not Recommended, and 31 are in the Check Fit category.
“We hope manufacturers will move quickly to redesign or end production of the Not Recommended boosters and also phase out Check Fit seats and replace them with BEST BETs that perform their job reliably,” Jermakian says.
Variety of options
Top-rated boosters come in a variety of forms. Highback boosters have built-in shoulder belt guides, and their additional structure often makes it easier for children transitioning out of harness-equipped restraints to sit properly. Many manufacturers tout enhanced side impact protection on their highback seats, though IIHS doesn’t evaluate those claims.
Backless boosters come with an attached clip to position the shoulder belt. It’s important to look at how the shoulder belt fits on a child and to use the clip if it doesn’t fall across the middle of the shoulder.
The new seats for 2015 include seven dual-use models. Each of them counts twice in the evaluations, with a separate rating for highback and backless modes.
As in earlier years, several are combination or 3-in-1 seats, which start out as harness-equipped restraints and can be converted to boosters when the child outgrows the harness.
One recent improvement to combination and 3-in-1 seats is the addition of a place to stow harness straps when they are not in use. This allows parents to use the seat as a booster without having to remove the harness completely.
The least expensive booster in the new crop is the Little Tikes Backless Booster, available at Walmart for $13. The Evenflo Platinum Evolve, a 3-in-1 seat that can be used as a forward-facing restraint, highback booster and backless booster, and the Safety 1st Grow and Go, which can be used as a rear-facing restraint, forward-facing restraint and a booster, each sell for about $170.
New names, new designs
One big manufacturer, Britax, has no new or redesigned seats this year, but the names of its existing models have changed. The Frontier 90 highback is now the Frontier Clicktight, the Pinnacle 90 highback is the Pinnacle Clicktight, and the Pioneer 70 highback is simply the Pioneer. All three are BEST BETs. The Britax Parkway SG and Parkway SGL, both dual-use boosters that are BEST BETs in highback mode and Check Fit in backless mode, also are carried over.
The BubbleBum, an inflatable booster designed for portability, has a redesigned lap-belt guide intended to be easier to use. Like the earlier version, which still is on the market, the new one is a BEST BET.