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Many new booster seats are doing a good job of fitting children who use adult seat belts, according to a new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Institute has released their annual list of the best-fitting booster seats for children age 4 to 8 years old, and it found that 19 of the 31 new-for-2013 models are considered Best Bets by the IIHS.
These standout booster seats offer the best potential of correctly positioning a vehicle's seat belt on a child in a variety of vehicle types. Overall, there are 58 Best Bets, along with five Good Bets. Eleven new models are designated as a "Check Fit," which means their ability to provide a good fit will likely need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Three new Britax models—Frontier 90, Pinnacle 90, and Pioneer 70 highback seats—fell into the “Check Fit” category, because the lap belt was too high on the dummy’s abdomen. This came as a surprise, since Britax boosters have consistently placed in the top two categories.
It's important to note that the IIHS ratings are based solely on how well each booster seat positions the lap and shoulder belt; the seats’ primary function. The child sized dummy that represents an average 6-year old is stationary for this assessment. The ratings are also not an assessment of crash performance or vehicle fit.
New-for-2013 IIHS Best Bet Boosters
Britax Parkway GS (highback mode)
Britax parkway SGL (highback mode)
Evenflo Amp (backless)
Evenflo Big Kid LX (backless)
Evenflo Chase (highback)
Evenflo Right Fit (highback and backless modes)
Ferrari Beline SP (backless)
Graco Affix (highback and backless modes)
Graco Argos 70 Elite (highback mode)
Graco Connect (backless)
Graco Nautilus Elite (highback mode)
Graco Nautilus Plus (highback mode)
Graco Nautilus with Safety Surround (highback mode)
Harmony Transit Deluxe (backless)
Recaro Performance Sport (highback mode)
Recaro ProSport II (highback)
Safety 1st BoostAPak (backless)
See the full list at www.iihs.org.
The IIHS test provides an important assessment when choosing a booster seat, and it educates parents on how belts should fit and what to look for. The IIHS test is based on fit to a dummy that represents an average sized six-year-old child. However, as we know, children and cars come in all shapes and sizes, so it's important to do your own assessment to make sure the belt properly fits your child in their booster.
Though the fit criteria are similar we use the same 6-year old child sized dummy-- Consumer Reports has a somewhat different approach. We also assess a seat's ability to provide a proper belt fit but we do so in a variety of vehicles rather than on a single seat. As booster aged kids also have the freedom to move around in a vehicle belt, we also move the dummy forward and sideward to see if the belts stay in place. In many cases they don’t. We also include both crash protection and an ease-of-use assessment in our ratings. Consequently, you may find some differences between the ratings.
While either rating is intended to provide helpful guidance, parents should try any booster seat out in their car before buying to make sure the belts can be properly positioned.
A well-fitting booster should put the lap portion of the seat belt flat across a child's upper thigh and the shoulder belt at mid-shoulder. This is a check that you should make with your own child in your own car when you select a booster seat (see questions for assessing booster fit below).
There are many boosters that show up twice on the IIHS list, as they are dual-use seats--meaning they can be used as a highback or backless seat. Our own tests and a review of the IIHS Best Bets shows that highback models tend to offer the best potential over backless versions of providing a proper belt fit.
Boosters have improved considerably the past few years. When IIHS first started conducting these tests in 2008, there were 13 boosters not recommended and only 10 Best Bets. Now there are 53 Best Bets after manufacturers started utilizing the IIHS test protocols when designing and updating their seats, which is a good thing for consumers.
When assessing booster fit, ask these key questions:
All states have laws for the use of child restraints, but some are stricter than others. Currently, most states have laws that cover children up until age seven, but many others don't require child restraint use above the age of five. Variations and confusion in booster seat state laws, seat cost and inconvenience, and child discomfort are reasons why children five- through seven-years old are not always restrained in booster seats--but they should be as they can help reduce injuries in a crash.
Consumer Reports recommends booster seats be used until the child can comfortably and safely fit the vehicle belts alone. If you're unsure if your child fits the vehicle belts without a booster, ask the same questions as above but without the use of the booster.
To provide the best protection, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends using a booster seat for children until they are at least eight years old or 4'9" tall. Also, all children under age 13 should ride in the rear seat.
For more information on how to choose the right infant, convertible, or booster seats, see our latest Ratings and buying advice. For more on driving with kids, see our Kids and Car safety special section.