Banner Booster Year: Better Child Seats
These ratings are meant to help parents decide which ones to buy. It can be a difficult task, since there are no federal standards to address how well booster seats are designed so that seatbelts, which are made for adults, fit properly on children who are too big for child safety seats.
Booster seats are meant to fill the gap between the time a child is too big for a forward-facing child safety seat with its internal harnesses, yet is too small for a vehicle's seat belts to fit correctly. Adult seat belts will not fit some children properly until about the age of 12. Booster seats raise toddlers and older children to help correctly position a vehicle's lap and shoulder belts, so that children are properly restrained in a crash.
The Insurance Institute's evaluations are based on measuring how seat belts fit a child-size test dummy to determine the correct seat belt fit. Booster seats are not crash-tested because it is the safety belts themselves -- not booster seats -- that are meant to provide crash protection.
This year a record number of new models earned the top rating for providing good seatbelt fit in a range of vehicles. Out of the 41 new 2014 models, 27 were rated a BEST BET; three earned a GOOD BET; eight were in a category called "Check Fit."
Three were Not Recommended. They are the highback Diono Olympia and Pacifica, and the Kids Embrace Batman No Back Booster (backless). The insurance institute says to avoid seats that are Not Recommended.
In 2008 -- the first year for these ratings -- only 10 of 41 models were rated BEST BETS and 13 were Not Recommended.
In the rating system, a BEST BET means a booster will correctly position seat belts on a typical 4- to 8-year-old child in almost any car, minivan, or sport-utility vehicle. A GOOD BET provides acceptable belt fit in most vehicles. A correct fit means that the lap belt lies flat across a child's upper thighs and the shoulder belt crosses snugly over the middle of the shoulder, not off the shoulder or on the neck.
Shoulder belt fit is the problem with both Diono models and lap belt fit is the problem with the Batman booster, according to the report.
A Check Fit rating means a booster may work well in some vehicles, but not as many as one that is rated BEST BET or GOOD BET.
The top-rated new boosters ranged in price from $25 to $370, so there are some for every budget.
In addition to rating new booster seats, the Insurance Institute carries over ratings for older seats that are still being sold. It advises parents to avoid using two carryover models from Dorel Juvenile. These seats -- the Safety 1st All-in-One and Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite -- have been on the Not Recommended list since 2009.
The report mentioned that more new booster seats are using a vehicle's LATCH points to secure a booster seat. LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, was instituted to make it easier to correctly secure rear- and forward-facing child car seats. The Insurance Institute recommends checking the owner's manual for the booster seat to see whether the manufacturer recommends using the LATCH system to secure the seat in a vehicle.
To read the report, visit this link: (http://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/49/9/1).
By Cheryl Jensen, Motor Matters
Cheryl Jensen began writing about the auto industry in 1996. Her reports have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Better Homes and Gardens magazine. She has covered rallies in South America, Australia, the 1992 Paris-Moscow-Beijing Raid, and in 1996 was the first American woman to finish the Dakar Rally. She has a bachelor's degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Cheryl resides in New Hampshire.