New report: Booster seat ratings improve

New report: Booster seat ratings improve

When Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) began its booster seat ratings in 2008, most models failed to consistently provide good belt fit — the main purpose of a booster.

This year, all new models evaluated by the Institute provide good or acceptable fit for typical 4 to 8 year-olds in most cars, minivans and SUVs, the organization announced in a new report released early Tuesday.

Out of 23 new models evaluated, 20 earn the highest rating of BEST BET, meaning they are likely to provide good belt fit for a 4- to 8-year-old child in almost any car, minivan or SUV, the report states.

An additional three models are rated GOOD BETs, meaning they provide acceptable fit in most vehicles. There are no new models in the Not Recommended category, nor are there any with the Check Fit designation, which identifies seats that may work for some children in some vehicles.

"Our ratings have succeeded in getting child seat manufacturers to prioritize belt fit when they design boosters," said Jessica Jermakian, IIHS senior research scientist, in a prepared statement. "The large number of BEST BETs on the market now makes it easier for parents to shop for a seat that will work for their child in virtually any vehicle."

Booster seats are designed for children who have outgrown harness-equipped restraints. Children ages 4-8 are 45 percent less likely to sustain injuries in crashes if they are in boosters than if they are using safety belts alone.

Boosters serve as an important bridge until children are large enough for vehicle safety belts to fit properly by themselves. For some kids, that's not until age 12.

Until then, booster seats should be used to make safety belts fit correctly. Correct fit means the belt lies flat across a child's upper thighs, not across the soft abdomen, and the shoulder belt crosses snugly over the middle of a child's shoulder.

IIHS began issuing booster ratings after finding that many seats didn't consistently provide good belt fit (see Status Report special issue: booster seats, Oct. 1, 2008). The ratings are based on evaluations of how three-point lap and shoulder belts fit a child-size test dummy seated in the booster on a stationary test fixture. Measurements are taken under four conditions spanning the range of safety belt configurations in passenger vehicles. The evaluations focus on belt fit and don't involve crash tests.

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