booster seat with good fit - IIHSEnlarge Photo
But shopping for a booster seat can be a little overwhelming. There's just not a lot of information out there, and you quite simply don't know how a seat will fit in a given vehicle, with a particular child.
What's more, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that "there's a hodgepodge of state laws regarding booster seats," with just 27 states covering kids all the way up to eight years old, despite research showing a 45-percent reduction in injuries. There's still no federal standard regarding how boosters are supposed to fit seatbelts either, so it's up to parents to make sure there's a secure fit in their particular vehicle.
To help you out, the IIHS has tested many of the booster seats on the market and has singled out those more likely to provide a good fit.
Last December, the IIHS tested 60 widely available booster seats with a new methodology, and rated them in three simple groups: Best Bet, Good Bet, and Not Recommended. The rest of the seats fall into a middle range, which the IIHS says "may provide an adequate belt fit for some kids in some vehicles."
This time, the IIHS looked at 72 booster seats, and found that 21 of them earned the top Best Bet grade. Last year, out of 60, just nine earned the top rating.
The tests, which build on a host of measurements with a specially outfitted crash-test dummy representing an average-size six-year-old child, judge seats on belt placement, not crash-test forces. The organization explains that it's not the seats that do the restraining in a crash; it's the belts, and that's why fit is so important.
Once again, the IIHS notes that more expensive seats aren't necessarily better-rated, and you don't need to spend a lot to get top performance. "In fact, shoppers can find several Best Bet boosters for $50 through online retailers," said Anne McCartt, the Institute's senior VP for research.
Booster seats are improving, the Institute reports, with a number of manufacturers changing their designs—in some cases because of the test results. One seat from Harmony was significantly improved versus last year.
If parents are already using a booster that doesn't have a good rating, the IIHS simply recommends that you should double-check how the belts fit their child the next time they're in the car (look at the good and poor fit pictures to the right). If they're not fitting the child well, then go get one from the list below.
2010 IIHS BOOSTER EVALUATION RESULTS
Britax Frontier 85 (combination highback)
Chicco Keyfit Strada (dual highback)
Clek Oobr (dual highback)
Cosco Juvenile Pronto (dual highback)
Cybex Solution X-Fix (highback)
Eddie Bauer Auto Booster (dual highback)
Evenflo Big Kid Amp (backless)
Evenflo Maestro (combination highback)
Graco TurboBooster Crawford (dual highback)
Harmony Baby Armor (dual highback)
Harmony Dreamtime (dual backless)
Harmony Dreamtime (dual highback)
Harmony Secure Comfort Deluxe (backless)
Harmony Youth Booster Seat (backless)
Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR (dual highback)
Recaro ProBOOSTER (highback)
Recaro ProSPORT (combination highback)
Recaro Vivo (highback)
Recaro Young Sport (combination highback)
Safety 1st Boost Air Protect (dual highback)
The First Years Pathway B570 (highback)
Britax Parkway SG (dual highback)
Combi Kobuk Air Thru (dual backless)
Combi Kobuk Air Thru (dual highback)
Evenflo Symphony 65 (3-in-1 highback)
Graco TurboBooster Sachi (dual highback)
Graco TurboBooster Wander (dual highback)
Maxi-Cosi Rodi (dual highback)
Eddie Bauer Deluxe (combination highback)
Eddie Bauer Deluxe 3-in-1 (highback)
Evenflo Express (combination highback)
Evenflo Generations 65 (combination highback)
Evenflo Sightseer (highback)
Harmony Baby Armor (dual backless)
Safety 1st All-in-One (3-in-1 highback)
Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite (3-in-1 highback)