Considering buying a Britax Frontier 90 or Pinnacle 90 Harness-2-Booster seat? Maybe you already bought one, based on our reviews or because they appeared on our recommended seats list? Perhaps you have recently seen or heard that the IIHS did not give your carseat a “Best Best” or “Good Bet” rating and you are now wondering if it is safe to use? Don’t Panic! “Check Fit” does NOT mean “Unsafe”!
So what does a “Check Fit” rating from the IIHS mean? Quite simply, it means you have to check how well the booster fits your own child, in your own vehicle. Install the booster in your vehicle, buckle and route the seat belt, all according to the instructions in the owner’s manual. Ideally, the lap belt should be fairly flat on the upper thigh, not up on the tummy. The shoulder belt should be centered on the shoulder; it should not be falling off the shoulder or rest on the child’s neck. What if it doesn’t fit well? Keep using it for now to keep your child safe and read on for some suggestions to improve the safety for your child! For more on booster fit, please see CarseatBlog’s coverage of the 2013 IIHS Booster Ratings.
The first important thing to note is that the new 2013 IIHS Booster Ratings are not results of dynamic crash tests. Second, they do not consider ease-of-use or additional safety features at all. The evaluations are only measurements of seatbelt fit to an average 4 to 8 year-old child using these seats in booster mode in a few vehicle seating scenarios. Finally, these ratings DO NOT apply at all if you are using these or any other combination booster seat in the 5-point harness mode. In regard to harness use, CarseatBlog agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics, “All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their [5-point harness] Child Safety Seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap-and-shoulder seat belt ﬁts properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age. There is a safety advantage for young children to remain in Child Safety Seats with a harness for as long as possible before transitioning to booster seats.”
How does the IIHS know if a booster will fit your child and vehicle? Good question! They evaluate booster fit on a standard dummy, representative of a typical 6-year old child, measured in four scenarios that mimic real vehicle use. What if your child is a different size than the dummy or you have a vehicle that varies significantly from any of their test scenarios? That could mean the booster fits somewhat better or worse than the rating suggests, but overall the ratings should still provide meaningful comparisons. CarseatBlog recommends that parents consult the IIHS Booster Ratings, as they are a great place to start and generally reflect a range of children and vehicles. We do caution that their evaluations do not always apply directly to every possible combination of child and vehicle. That means that a model that earned a “Best Bet” may not fit ideally with your child and vehicle. Similarly, a model that earned a “Check Fit” rating may provide a good fit for your child, in your particular vehicle.
So, a lower rating does not necessarily mean your child is less safe, unless you check yourself and find the belt fit to be marginal or poor in booster mode, of course. For example, I found the seatbelt fit of a Britax Frontier 90 (“Check Fit” rating) in booster mode to be very reasonable on my 8-year old child in a couple of popular vehicles, a Toyota Highlander and Prius.
As mentioned in the video, it is worthwhile to note that the Britax Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90 have among the highest seated torso height limits for the 5-point harness system of any combination harness/booster carseat. That means most kids can use the harness until they are 8 years old or possibly even older. That is a very safe option if you did happen to find that the seatbelt did not fit your child well in booster mode, especially on younger or less mature children who may benefit most from the extra points of restraint in a 5-point harness system.