Seatbelt Adjusters or Booster Seats? Which are safer?
We may not be as entertaining as TLC’s drama-filled show What Not To Wear is, but here at CarseatBlog.com we do our best to write product reviews that help you decide what to wear. We try out carseats, boosters, and other children’s safety products, share expert advice and gather information regarding price, comfort, installation, added safety features etc. However, this review will be different because you need to understand that no matter your price range, your child’s comfort level, your user abilities, or preferences, this is a review of a product that you should not ever use. I call this review, What Not To Wear.
6-½ year old Sam wearing the Seatbelt Adjuster sold by Amazon.
Serious injuries can occur as a result of using any product like this one!
Judging by the popularity of this unusual seatbelt adjuster, some may argue that this product is inexpensive and makes seatbelts more comfortable. But did Stacy London, host of TLC’s hit show, ever fish sweatpants out of the trash for someone who liked how cheap and comfortable they were? No! And those two excuses won’t sway us here either. We will address those two points but first, what even is this product?
Screenshot of the Amazon listing. A 4-pack of Hontech Seatbelt Adjusters costs $15.98 plus free shipping!
Similar seatbelt adjusters can be found all over the internet too:
What Is This Product?
As you can see in the picture above, the Seatbelt Adjuster is a piece of mesh-covered-foam folded into a triangular tube and features a single plastic snap. To use, you would feed the vehicle seatbelt latch plate through the tube and fasten the snap to separate the lap belt portion from the shoulder belt portion. According to the Amazon listing, “Adjuster fits [vehicle seatbelt] correctly across shoulder and lap, absorb[s] shocks, keeps[s] seatbelt away from child’s neck area.” And is, “Recommended for older children who have outgrown their booster seat.”
What Problem Does This Product Aim to Solve?
This product is being marketed to parents whose children are uncomfortable with the vehicle seatbelt. But an uncomfortable seatbelt is a sign that seatbelt doesn’t properly fit their child! Children who are slouching to get their knees to bend comfortably at the end of the vehicle seat have the lap belt high over their soft abdomens, and the shoulder belt cutting into their neck and face will not be safe in a collision or sudden stop and will certainly not be comfortable. No wonder parents are looking for a solution to their children’s seatbelt complaints! If only these children were still in a booster seat, then all their seatbelt discomforts would go away and they’d be riding safely! As discussed in earlier posts a child does not outgrow their booster seat until they can pass the 5-step test at which time no other product is necessary for the seat belt to fit properly and feel comfortable.
In case you aren’t sufficiently convinced that a booster seat will actually make your child’s ride more comfortable and much safer, even for your bigger kids, and you are still tempted to buy this product for your child, then allow me to get back to my original two points, price and comfort.
Price: Cheap, Low-cost, Economical, Bargain…
This product is not just inexpensive, it’s downright cheap! Do you know why a booster seat costs around $25 while you can purchase FOUR of these for only $16 dollars? I have four possible answers for you: materials, labeling, research, and customer service.
Carseats are made with a combination of new materials like steel, plastic, energy absorbing foam, flame retardant fabric, etc. The best I can tell, this product is made out of packing foam and fabric that may not even be fire resistant. I am left to guess on what materials are used because of the lack of labeling, which is the next possible reason for why it’s so cheap.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS 213) which outlines specific requirements for manufacturers of child restraints including proper labeling. Correct labeling is crucial to proper use of a product. Carseat manufacturers must pay strict attention to every last detail of the labeling such as font, size, wording, punctuation, language translation, etc. as they list important height and weight limitations, proper installation, warnings, manufacture date, and registration information.
Even as far back as the mid-1990s, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognized the poor belt fit these products offer and asked NHTSA regulate them. Unfortunately, because the test dummies didn’t have abdominal sensors like they do today, NHTSA couldn’t measure for injuries or create criteria by which the adjusters could be measured. There was also concern that any required labeling on the products would be seen by parents that they are safe to be used instead of booster seats.
This seatbelt adjuster does not have a single piece of labeling which leads me to the next item it is lacking: customer service.
Because there is no label on this product with manufacturer or product information there is no way to ask any questions, voice concerns, know when it will expire, or even be notified of a product recall. If this manufacturer discovered a problem with their product, they would have no way to reach out to its customers. Good customer service is crucial in making sure a product offers its promised level of safety.
Research is how manufacturers learn how safety features perform in real life situations. A manufacturer gathers key information about its product from feedback from its customers and from its own testing. Considering that this product’s manufacturer, Hontech, did not comply with any other NHTSA requirements for carseats, it is not likely they executed the mandatory 30 mile-per-hour frontal crash test either.
This product’s lack of research, customer service, labeling, and quality materials makes it actually a very expensive piece of foam.
These pictures from the Amazon listing make it look like this product will bring smiles, when really the only thing they’ll bring is the lap portion up way too high causing internal organ damage in a collision.
Comfort: Cozy, Enjoyable, Pleasant…
“Comfortable” was not actually a word any of my test subjects used when trying out the product, however, in the 126 comments on Amazon it was used quite a bit. I actually don’t think any of the commenters intended to use the product in order to adjust the lap portion, rather they were all looking to adjust the shoulder portion. Ironically, in order to pull the shoulder portion down, away from the face and neck, the seatbelt adjuster pulls the lap portion up over the soft, vulnerable organs of the abdomen. You can see in this photo which was posted by a customer how poorly the lap portion fits now with the seat adjuster.
The seatbelt adjuster does momentarily keep the shoulder belt from this boy’s face but may not permanently fix the problem. Also, now the lap belt portion is not low on his thighs, rather it’s up on his belly.
The Real Solution
The What Not to Wear Hosts get to throw out everything that doesn’t fit right and take them out shopping for a brand new wardrobe. I would love to take a page from their book and find an unsuspecting user of this product, throw it away, and give them a shopping spree for an effective, safe, tested and approved replacement: a booster seat!
This 8-year-old is safe and comfortable in his booster seat!