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Fall 2008 | Vol. 11 | No. 3
IIHS Finds Fault with Many Booster Seats
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently released a report evaluating how well various booster seats improve the fit of seat belts to better protect children in a crash. Unlike child restraints, booster seats themselves do not restrain children; rather, they simply elevate children so lap and shoulder belts are better positioned to restrain them. Of the 41 belt-positioning booster seat studied, 13 performed so poorly that the Institute does not recommend them at all. IIHS ranked 10 models as best bets and 5 as good bets.
Researchers evaluated two types of boosters, backless and highback, under conditions representing a range of 2001- 06 model vehicles, including cars, minivans and SUVs. The evaluations reflect the fit of lap/ shoulder belts for an average size 6 year-old. The 10 best bet booster seats were expected to improve belt fit for children in any of these vehicle types.
All booster seats receiving a best bet ranking located the lap belt on children's upper thighs. In this position, during a crash the lap belt puts the energy load onto the pelvic bones, rather than soft parts like the abdomen, which is more vulnerable to injury. The booster seats that did not make the cut were found to leave the lap belt partially or fully on the abdomen.
Shoulder belt fit was also taken into consideration. The higher rated booster seats also positioned the shoulder belt at midshoulder, keeping the webbing away from the neck to avoid chafing and reducing the likelihood that kids will endanger themselves by putting the belt behind their back or under an arm.
Forty-three states and the District of Columbia now include booster seat requirements as part of their child safety seat laws, but parents have had little information on how to select the safest ones. IIHS conducted this first of its kind study in conjunction with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, and it plans to continue similar assessments.