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Harness and Belt Fit: When Not to Worry

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Should You Really Be Concerned about Harness and Seat Belt Geometry?

A common question parents ask is whether or not the buckle should be sitting so high on their child after he’s buckled in the carseat. Caregivers may have heard that the buckle should fit low on the hips, like a seat belt, or have seen that the harness fits their child differently than their friend’s child who rides in a different carseat.

The simple answer is that harness geometry differs by manufacturer and may even differ within that manufacturer’s line. The lap portion of the harness may ride higher on your child’s belly in your rear-facing infant seat whereas it sits lower across his thighs when he rides in his convertible seat made by the same manufacturer. Any insert that comes with the carseat will also affect whether the straps cross your child’s thighs or his hips.

    

The harness may also sit quite differently on a newborn than it does on a larger child because a newborn has skinnier legs. Manufacturers certify their carseats to fit a wide range of weights and all children are proportionally built differently.

The harness also serves several purposes: it restrains a child in a crash, contacts the strongest parts of the body (the bones), spreads out the crash forces over a large part of the body, helps the body ride down crash forces, and protects the head, neck, and spinal cord. The direction the carseat faces plays a role too; a buckle sitting high on a child’s belly plays less of an injury role on a rear-facing carseat because the carseat itself is bearing the brunt of the crash force as are the shoulder straps.

One feature being provided by manufacturers that can greatly change the way the harness sits on your child’s legs is crotch strap length adjustment. Clek’s innovative way of adjusting crotch strap length is to provide two straps of different lengths on one buckle (see pics below). Baby Trend infant seats have adjustable crotch straps and require the buckle latches to be ½”-1″ from the baby’s thighs. Other manufacturers allow the crotch strap to be routed back through the outside slot, which greatly reduces the length and brings the harness down on the thighs.

  

The one place where harness fit counts is in the shoulder slot height. When your child is rear-facing, the straps must be at or below her shoulders. Why? The majority of crashes are frontal crashes and in all crashes, everything, including your child, will move toward the point of impact. Your rear-facing carseat will dip down and allow your child to slide up the seat. If the harness is positioned above her shoulders, she’ll slide up until she reaches the harness. Then on rebound—after the crash happens and everything that moved toward the impact comes back and settles—your child will slide back down in her seat. That’s a lot of movement and potential for injury, so keeping her down in her seat in the first place is important.

When forward-facing, you want the straps to be at or above her shoulders to hold her back in a crash. The carseat will again move down and toward the front of the vehicle. If the slots used are below her shoulders, possible spinal compression can occur as she’s held down and her shoulders roll forward.

  

So, for harness use, as long as the shoulder slots are properly positioned, everything else is good (as an end-user, you can’t really redesign where the lap straps are coming out of the carseat anyway). What about belt-positioning boosters and seat belts? Doesn’t using a belt-positioning booster automatically mean proper seat belt positioning?

No.

With boosters, you want the lap portion of the seat belt to fit low on the hips, touching the thighs—and there’s quite a range of what that means. Clothing can get in the way of seeing where the belt actually lies on the lap, so when assessing lap belt fit, it’s good for the child to be wearing snug-fitting clothing. The shoulder belt should be squarely on the shoulder—closer to the neck than the edge of the arm where it may slide off. It should also be noted here that since your child won’t always be wearing snug-fitting clothing, when she’s wearing jeans or other bulky clothing, she should be taught to pull the lap belt snug and low on her hips after buckling.

Younger children tend to have narrow torsos, so getting proper shoulder belt fit on them is more difficult because there’s no room for the seat belt. For a narrow kid like this, it’s better to have the shoulder belt closer to the neck—but not over the throat—so that in a crash, the child can’t slip out of the shoulder belt. Adjusting the headrest up on the booster sets the shoulder belt closer to the neck. The child below shows that she’s too small for a backless booster; she should ideally be in a harnessed seat or at the very least a highback booster so the shoulder belt is positioned better on her. A shoulder belt positioner attached to a backless booster can help too, but not as well as a highback booster. The seat belt is also not adjusted securely on her.

The lap belt portion of the seat belt should be touching or partially laying on the thighs. It can be too far forward on the thighs, which can lead to sliding (submarining) under the seat belt in a crash, and of course, it can sit too high on the soft belly, where injury to internal organs can occur in a crash.

 

Of course we can’t forget about the big kids who fit into seat belts. How do you know if your child is big enough to fit into a seat belt without needing a booster seat? There’s an easy test, called the 5-Step Test which allows you to tell if your kid still needs a booster.

5-Step Test
  1. Does the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat?
  2. Are his knees bent comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
  3. Does the seat belt cross the shoulder properly on the center of the collar bone?
  4. Is the lap belt low, touching the thighs?
  5. Can the child stay this way for the entire ride?

Vehicle seat belts are designed to fit adult males, not children. It’s not safe for them to sit in one unless it fits them well; they’re at risk for seat belt syndrome, serious head injuries, broken bones, and death. Most kids won’t fit in a seat belt without a booster until around ages 11-12.

Essentials by Britax Skyline Highback Belt-Positioning Booster

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2018 Essentials by Britax Skyline Highback Belt-Positioning Booster Review

In an effort to make more affordable and accessible products, earlier this year Britax introduced its Essentials by Britax line of carseats. The belt-positioning booster for this line is called the Skyline and is based on the Britax Highpoint booster seat, but with fewer features and a smaller price tag to show for it. A review on the Britax Highpoint can be found here, and here’s a top-down pic to show the basic differences between the two seats (Skyline is black, Highpoint is blue).

Weight and Height Limits

40-120 lbs.; 38-63”

Skyline Overview
  • 10 position headrest
  • Can be installed with lower LATCH connectors
  • Lined with EPP foam
  • Two removable, dishwasher-safe cup holders
  • MSRP $99
Measurements

Belt guide heights: 15 ¾”-23”
Inside shoulder width: 14”
Inside hip width: 11 ½”
Seat depth: 14”
External widest point: 19 ¼”
Seat weight: 12.1 lbs.

For more measurements, see our comparison database.

 

There are 2 fashions available, Dusk and Teal. Since this is Britax’s more affordable line, you’ll be able to find these boosters at stores like Target and Wal-Mart, and at local Brixy retailers as well.

The only assembly required for the Skyline is adding the cup holders, if desired. The booster comes out of the box in once piece and cannot be used backless, so there is no putting the back onto the bottom piece. The bonus to this is that it stays together when you carry it!

Fit to Child

Seat belt fit is very good; lap belt fit is aided by thick armrests that push the lap belt forward onto the thighs. Shoulder belt fit is adjusted by squeezing a handle on the back of the headrest and lifting up or pushing down. The Skyline is one of the tallest on the market, so it will be a good option for kids with tall torsos. Be sure to adjust the headrest so that the shoulder belt guides are above your child’s shoulders and his ears are inside the headrest. The label just above the shoulder belt guide helps you with placement. My model liked the Skyline and found it comfy. S is 5.5 years old, 40 lbs., and 44″ tall.

  

Fit to Vehicle

Check your vehicle owner’s manual to see if you can install the booster using the lower LATCH connectors. This is an optional feature that keeps the booster in place when the child is not in the seat; otherwise, the child should buckle the booster in when getting out of it so it doesn’t become a projectile in a crash.

Center LATCH installations with Non-Standard Spacing:

Permitted only in designated LATCH positions

Inflatable Seat Belts:

Not allowed

Cover/Maintenance/Ease of Use

Essentials by Britax suggests hand washing the cover and hanging it to dry. It is fairly easy to remove and has a couple of elastics.

FAA/Lifespan/Crash

Because belt-positioning booster seats require the use of lap/shoulder belts, the Skyline cannot be used on an airplane.

The Skyline has a lifespan of 10 years. Britax follows NHTSA crash guidelines for replacement after a crash.

Advantages
  • 10 position headrest
  • Can be installed with lower LATCH connectors
  • Lined with EPP foam
  • Two removable, dishwasher-safe cup holders
  • Less expensive than the similar Britax Highpoint
  • Narrower by about 1.5″ than the Britax Highpoint because it lacks the side impact cushions at the shoulders
Disadvantages
  • Made in China
  • Does not convert to backless booster

Despite not converting to a backless booster, the Skyline scores as one of the tallest highback boosters on the market. It is less expensive than the Highpoint, but it also lacks the SecureGuard lap belt clip that helps some kids stay in position when transitioning from a harnessed seat. Not having the side impact cushions on the outside of the shoulder area means that it’s narrower than the Britax Highpoint, but the downside is the loss of a safety feature. When comparing boosters, though, it’s definitely worth consideration.

The Skyline sample used in this review was provided by Essentials by Britax. No other compensation was provided and all opinions are my own.

This post and others at CarseatBlog contain affiliate links. Please read About CarseatBlog for our affiliate policy and see our Marketing Disclosure.

 

 

Britax Highpoint Highback Belt-Positioning Booster Review: The Next Generation

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2018 Britax Highback Highpoint Belt-Positioning Booster Review

Comfy fabric and smart features mark the redesign of Britax’s popular Parkway SGL booster. The new Highpoint has new fabrics and better cup holders, but does not convert to a backless booster. The LATCH attachment design is also different, with the tensioning adjuster strap on the left side only. In a new twist, Britax has also introduced a new line of seats under the Essentials by Britax name. The Essentials by Britax Skyline highback booster is similar to the Highpoint booster being reviewed here, but has fewer features and fashions available. Our review on that seat can be found here, but here’s a top-down pic to show the basic differences between the two seats.

Weight and Height Limits

40-120 lbs.; 38-63”

Highpoint Overview
  • 10 position headrest
  • Can be installed with lower LATCH connectors
  • Lined with EPP foam
  • External side impact cushions
  • Adjustable SecureGuard™ Belt Positioning Clip helps position lap belt properly
  • Two removable, dishwasher-safe cup holders
  • MSRP $149
Measurements

Belt guide heights: 15 ¾”-23”
Inside shoulder width: 14”
Inside hip width: 11 ½”
Seat depth: 14”
External widest point: 20 ¾”
Seat weight: 12.1 lbs.

For more measurements, see our comparison database.

     

There are 2 fashions generally available, Asher (gray) and Seaglass (blue), while Mulberry (purple) is an Amazon exclusive. The Nanotex fashion (black with gray) is available only at Brixy local retailers. The Cool Flow fashions, Teal and Grey, will be available soon; Teal is a BuyBuyBaby exclusive. Cool Flow is a mesh fabric designed to improve air flow and be cooler than standard fabrics.

The only assembly required for the Highpoint is adding the cup holders, if desired. The booster comes out of the box in once piece and cannot be used backless, so there is no putting the back onto the bottom piece. The bonus to this is that it stays together when you carry it!

Fit to Child

Seat belt fit is very good; lap belt fit is aided by thick armrests that push the lap belt forward onto the thighs. Shoulder belt fit is adjusted by squeezing a handle on the back of the headrest and lifting up or pushing down. The Highpoint is one of the tallest on the market, so it will be a good option for kids with tall torsos. Be sure to adjust the headrest so that the shoulder belt guides are above your child’s shoulders and his ears are inside the headrest. The label just above the shoulder belt guide helps you with placement. My model liked the Highpoint and found it comfy. Just for kicks, I’m throwing in a pic to show why he needs a booster for a very long time! S is 5.5 years old, 40 lbs., and 44″ tall.

   

Fit to Vehicle

Check your vehicle owner’s manual to see if you can install the booster using the lower LATCH connectors. This is an optional feature that keeps the booster in place when the child is not in the seat; otherwise, the child should buckle the booster in when getting out of it so it doesn’t become a projectile in a crash.

Center LATCH installations with Non-Standard Spacing:

Permitted only in designated LATCH positions

Inflatable Seat Belts:

Not allowed

Cover/Maintenance/Ease of Use

Britax suggests hand washing the cover and hanging it to dry. It is fairly easy to remove and has a couple of elastics.

FAA/Lifespan/Crash

Because belt-positioning booster seats require the use of lap/shoulder belts, the Highpoint cannot be used on an airplane.

The Highpoint has a lifespan of 10 years. Britax follows NHTSA crash guidelines for replacement after a crash.

Advantages
  • 10 position headrest
  • Can be installed with lower LATCH connectors
  • Lined with EPP foam
  • External side impact cushions
  • Adjustable SecureGuard™ Belt Positioning Clip helps position lap belt properly
  • Two removable, dishwasher-safe cup holders
Disadvantages
  • Made in China
  • Does not convert to backless booster

Despite not converting to a backless booster, the Highpoint scores as one of the tallest highback boosters on the market. It does a good job of positioning both the shoulder and lap belts on my model and the optional unique SecureGuard™ belt clip helps keep the lap belt low on kids who need that extra bit of help. The cover is comfy and colors are contemporary and ageless.

The Britax Highpoint sample used in this update was provided by Britax. No other compensation was provided and all opinions are my own.

This post and others at CarseatBlog contain affiliate links. Please read About CarseatBlog for our affiliate policy and see our Marketing Disclosure.

 

 

Hot Cars and Kids: A Deadly Combination

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Another summer and kids are starting to die almost daily because the temperature is heating up and what didn’t injure them earlier in the year is lethal now. Last week alone, 4 children died from being left unattended in hot vehicles. To date, 12 children have died in 2018 from being left in vehicles; outside temperatures ranged from 81° to 99°, though in previous years, children have died when temps have been in the 60s and 70s. Children’s body temperatures heat up 3 to 5 times faster than adults’ so organ damage can happen quickly.

A vehicle’s interior can increase in temperature by 19° in 10 minutes and go up another 10° after another 10 minutes. Within only 20 minutes, your car’s interior temp has increased by 29°—if it started at 70°, it’s now 99° and roasting. It’s only up from here.

It’s easy to make parenting judgments about the parents who left their children in vehicles, how awful they are and that they should never have been parents in the first place. But there is science behind how the brain works and how it can forget really important things—like kids—when it has been stressed or exhausted or out of a routine. If you aren’t the first to realize your brain may react this way, your child is at risk too.

Here are 10 important tips to help prevent more tragedies:

  1. If your child is missing, check your pool first, then your vehicle (including the trunk!)—check neighbor’s pools and vehicles second.
  2. Arrange to have your childcare provider contact you when your child doesn’t show up that day. Make sure they have multiple contact numbers to call/text and that they keep calling until they reach a live person.
  3. Keep all vehicles LOCKED at all times, even when they are in the garage and keep your keys/key fobs out of reach.
  4. Keep your wallet AND cell phone in the back seat when you are driving.
  5. Utilize available technology: Some Evenflo carseats, the Cybex Sirona M, and the Baby Trend Secure Snap Fit have technology available to let you know if your child has been left in the carseat. Some vehicles also have backseat reminders, and Hyundai is anticipating adding a rear seat sensor system in some 2019 model year vehicles.
  6. Another option, put one shoe in the back seat when you are driving—you’re not going to walk away from your vehicle without your other shoe!
  7. Make it a habit to always look in the back seat when getting out of the car.
  8. Teach your children that it’s NEVER okay to play in the car or to go into the car to get something without a grown-up.
  9. Teach your children NEVER to hide in the car or inside the trunk.
  10. However, also teach your children to blow the horn repeatedly to attract attention if they are ever trapped inside a vehicle.

And don’t forget about pets and the elderly! All of these populations have bodies that heat up faster than healthy adults and they cannot handle the heat as well. We may intend to run into the store for only 5 minutes, but circumstances may change and that quick trip may end up taking 15 minutes. It’s better to err on the side of safety and not risk a life.

 

Infographics provided by noheatstroke.org, run by meteorologist Jan Null. He keeps this website up-to-date with the sad statistics and other scientific data regarding hot vehicles.