You will see it all over the news today and tomorrow.  It will be on national morning shows, local news broadcasts, in newspapers and online.  There will be a lot of good information, but there will also be the usual misinformation.  Is your child safe just because you bought a 2011 IIHS “Best Bet” booster?  Should you panic if you have one that is “Not Recommended”?  Does that mean it is dangerous or unsafe?  Of course, you came to CarseatBlog for the in-depth, expert analysis, right?  As always, we have some answers and commentary, too. :-)

Before we get to the ratings, consider that most safety advocates suggest that kids be at least 4 years old before moving from a 5-point harness to a booster.  Even at age 4 or 5, some kids will not be mature enough to remain seated properly in a booster.  Squirming, slouching, continually leaning out of position or putting the shoulder belt behind their back or arm are all indicators that they may not be ready to handle the freedom of a booster seat.  Thankfully, there are many 5-point harnessed seats on the market which are rated to 65 lbs or more and can accommodate bigger kids who still lack the maturity needed to be adequately protected in a booster seat.

The Amercian Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • All infants and toddlersshould ride in a rear-facing car safetyseat (CSS) until theyare 2 years of age or until they reachthe highest weight orheight allowed by the manufacturer oftheir CSS.
  • All children2 years or older, or those younger than 2 yearswho have outgrownthe rear-facing weight or height limit fortheir CSS, shoulduse a forward-facing CSS with a harness foras long as possible,up to the highest weight or height allowedby the manufacturerof their CSS.
  • All children whose weight or height is abovethe forward-facinglimit for their CSS should use a belt-positioningbooster seatuntil the vehicle lap-and-shoulder seat belt fitsproperly,typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches inheight andare between 8 and 12 years of age.
  • When childrenare old enough and large enough to use the vehicleseat beltalone, they should always use lap-and-shoulder seatbelts foroptimal protection.
  • All children younger than 13 years shouldbe restrained in therear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.

Boosters are recommended until at least age 8, though most kids will need to use one until they are 4’9″ tall (57″) and can pass the 5-step Test in each vehicle where they ride.  I have three kids, including a 13-year old and an 11-year old who are tall enough to be out of a booster in most vehicles, but somehow still squirm out of their shoulder belt frequently, usually in order to poke or kick each other!   They ride in a seatbelt, but for younger kids, a forward-facing carseat with a 5-point harness remains the safest choice until a child can sit correctly in a booster for the duration of a trip.  For example, my 6-year old rides in a 5-point harness or a booster, depending on the vehicle and what I have installed at the moment.  Here is a video of him in a few “Best Bet” boosters: a BubbleBum, a Clek Oobr and a Britax Frontier 85 SICT.

Finally, many parents want to know if a backless booster is really safe.  Other parents want to know if it is really necessary to spend the extra money on a high-back booster.  The answer is that any booster that provides a correct fit of the lap and shoulder belt will provide a good deal of protection.  However, if your child frequently falls asleep in the car, then a high-back booster is generally a better choice since the headwings will help your child stay in the necessary upright position.  We go over some of the pros and cons of backless and high back boosters in a previous blog.

Okay, okay, it’s boring… we know.  But the dry information above is much more important in terms of saving the life of your child than is the choice between one booster or another!  In fact, if you know how to make sure a booster fits properly on your child, in your vehicle, you can determine the best booster for your situation even without the ratings!  That’s because these ratings from the IIHS are not crash test ratings at all.  They are simply standardized assessments of how well the boosters fit one particular crash test dummy (6-year-old Hybrid III) under 4 different conditions which represent a range of seatbelt configurations in various real-life vehicles.  This rating system doesn’t guarantee that a “Best Bet” product will fit your child better than a model that is listed as “Check Fit”, especially if your child is significantly larger or smaller than the 6-year-old Hybrid III dummy which weighs 51.6 lbs, has an overall height of almost 45″ tall, and a seated height of 25″. 

So, if your booster isn’t a “Best Bet” or even a “Good Bet”, it may still provide good protection for your child, but regardless, you need to check the belt fit.  If it doesn’t fit optimally, try another backseat position in your vehicle to see if it works better there and read the instructions for more tips.  With your vehicle and your child, you may find an exception where a lower rated model actually fits better than a higher rated one!  Remember, proper fit of the seatbelt on your child while in a booster seat means that the lap portion of the seatbelt is low, touching the thighs, and the shoulder portion of the belt is across the collarbone.

Now, on to the ratings!  We’ve noted “Best Bet” models that are included in our own “Recommended Carseats” list (the Graco TurboBooster Elite, Argos 70 and Evenflo Symphony 65 e3 are updates of recommended models that we hope to review soon).  In fact, we like most of the Best Bet models listed, but our list doesn’t include every model we like for editorial reasons. Some simply have not been reviewed yet and may be recommended in the future.  Please note that on some boosters, you’ll see a – followed by the fabric name.  IIHS tests different fashions within a line because the padding may be different and that difference can sometimes be significant enough to influence belt fit.

Best Bets:

*Britax Frontier 85
*Britax Frontier 85 SICT
*Britax Parkway SGL (highback mode)
*BubbleBum
Chicco KeyFit Strada (highback mode)
*Clek Oobr (highback mode)
Cosco Pronto (highback mode)
*Cybex Solution X-Fix
*Diono/Sunshine Kids Monterey (highback mode)
Eddie Bauer Auto Booster (highback mode)
*Evenflo Big Kid Amp
Evenflo Big Kid Sport (backless mode)
*Evenflo Maestro
*Evenflo Symphony 65 e3
Ferrari Dreamway SP (highback mode)
*Graco Argos 70 (highback mode)
*Graco TurboBooster – Baldwin (highback mode)
*Graco TurboBooster Elite (highback mode)
Harmony Cruz Youth Booster/Carpooler/V6 Backless
Harmony Dreamtime (backless mode)
Harmony Dreamtime (highback mode)
*Harmony Olympian/Secure Comfort Deluxe
Harmony Youth Booster Seat (formerly known as the LiteRider)
Kids Embrace Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR (highback mode)
Recaro ProBOOSTER
Recaro ProSPORT
Recaro Vivo
Safety 1st Boost Air Protect (highback mode)
Safety 1st S1 Rümi Air/Essential Air
The First Years B570 Pathway

Good Bets:

Britax Parkway SG (highback mode)
Combi Kobuk Air Thru (backless mode)
Combi Kobuk Air Thru (highback mode)
Evenflo Symphony 65
Maxi-Cosi Rodi (highback mode)

Check Fit:

Britax Parkway SG (backless mode)
Britax Parkway SGL (backless mode)
Chicco KeyFit Strada (backless mode)
Clek Olli
Clek Oobr (backless mode)
Clek Ozzi
Cosco Ambassador
Cosco Highback Booster
Cosco Pronto (backless mode)
Diono/Sunshine Kids Monterey (backless mode)
Diono/Sunshine Kids Santa Fe
Eddie Bauer Auto Booster (backless mode)
Evenflo Big Kid LX (backless mode)
Evenflo Big Kid LX (highback mode)
Evenflo Big Kid No Back Booster
Evenflo Big Kid Sport (highback mode)
Ferrari Ola
Ferrari Dreamway SP (backless mode)
Graco Argos 70 (backless mode)
Graco Backless TurboBooster – Aspen
Graco Backless TurboBooster – Baker
Graco Backless TurboBooster – Love Hearts
Graco Nautilus – Matrix (backless mode)
Graco Nautilus – Matrix (highback mode)
Graco Nautilus Elite (backless mode)
Graco Nautilus Elite (highback mode)
Graco Smart Seat
Graco TurboBooster – Baldwin (backless mode)
Graco TurboBooster Elite (backless mode)
Maxi-Cosi Rodi (backless mode)
Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR (backless mode)
Safety 1st Boost Air Protect (backless mode)
Safety 1st Go Hybrid
Safety 1st Summit
Safety 1st Vantage
Safety 1st Ventura
The First Years Compass B505
The First Years Compass B530
The First Years Compass B540
Volvo Booster (backless mode)
Volvo Booster (highback mode)

Not Recommended:

Evenflo Chase
Evenflo Express
Evenflo Generations 65
Evenflo Sightseer
Safety 1st All-in-One
Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite

* Denotes models on our Recommended Carseats list or updates of a model on the list that will be reviewed soon

 

You can find the full IIHS Booster Evaluation press release here along with some nice photos of proper lap and shoulder belt fit.  Stay tuned to www.carseatblog.com and www.car-seat.org for more coverage and some Best Bet Booster giveaways, too!