Booster seats: What you should know

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 WHAT TO KNOW: Make sure you your child's car seat caters for correct weight, height and fit. ~ Shutterstock
DETROIT, Michigan — Five years ago a safety institute started testing child booster seats, causing a vast improvement in safety ratings.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said more than half of child booster seats sold in the US in 2013 earned a top rating from the company.


The institute, funded by insurers, ranked 31 new models and 19 earned the top rating of “best bet,” which means they correctly position a four to eight-year-old to use the regular shoulder and lap belts in most cars.

Brands which are rated tops include Britax, Evenflo, Ferrari, Graco, Harmony, Recaro and Safety 1st and are on the institute’s “best bet” list. Both booster seats with high backs and those without backs performed well.

A belt fits correctly when the lap portion lies flat across the child’s upper thighs and the shoulder portion crosses snugly over the middle of the shoulder. The institute said children in booster seats were much less likely to be injured in a crash than those without boosters.

Children should use boosters until they’re big enough for adult belts to fit properly.

The group tested the boosters based on how they positioned a child-sized test dummy to use a car’s seat belts.

There are only two booster seats the institute warns people not to buy: The Safety 1st All-In-One and Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite, made by Dorel Juvenile Group, which has several other seats on the “best bet” list. These seats aren’t recommended because the lap belt comes up too far on the abdomen and the shoulder belt is too far out on the shoulder.

According to South Africa’s Arrive Alive, there are several different types of restraints when it comes to choosing the correct booster/baby seats.

Factors to consider are the child’s weight, height, does it have a proper three-point lap and diagonal seat-belt fitting when driving in a vehicle and will the seat fit in your car.

Arrive Alive said: “If a child is restrained in the wrong system for its age or weight, or the straps or harnesses are not adequately secured or entirely left undone, it will place the child at an increased risk of both fatal and non-fatal injuries. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing a restraint and placing your child in it.”

A child should be kept in the most appropriate restraint suitable for his or her size and age and only be moved to the next category of restraint when he or she no longer physically fits.

Infant Birth- one year: Never carry your child in your arms or share your seat belt with your child. The safest way for an infant to travel in a vehicle is in the rear facing position. A rear-facing child restraint system (sometimes called an “infant car seat”) provides the best protection for infants until they are one year old. Keep them in this position for as long as possible and only move them to a forward facing child seat when they no longer fit in the rear facing position.

Children aged 1–4 years: The bone-forming process is not complete until the age of six or seven years, and throughout childhood a child’s skull remains less strong than that of an adult. A restraint system needs to limit forward head movement in a frontal impact and provide protection from intrusion in a side impact. The best type here is the child safety seat. The integral harness secures the child and spreads the crash forces over a wide area. This seat will last them until either their weight exceeds 18kg or they grow too tall for the height of the adjustable harness.

Children aged 4–6 years: Booster seats are best used only when a child has outgrown a safety seat. They are designed for weights from 15kg to 25 kg. Children should continue to ride in a booster seat until the lap and diagonal belts in the car fit properly, typically when they are approximately 145cm tall.

Booster seats raise the seating position of the child so that the adult seat-belt lies properly across the chest, crossing diagonally at the child's shoulder rather than the neck, and low across the pelvis. If the adult belt is too high across the stomach, in a crash serious internal injury could result, or the child could submarine under the seat-belt. The booster seat has a back and can provide some protection in a side impact.

Children aged 6–11 years: A booster seat can improve the seat belt fit when your child is too big for a forward facing child seat and too small for an adult belt. As a general guide, buy a rigid booster seat with a back, side wings and a sash guide to keep the seat belt in place.

Booster cushions without backs are designed for weights from 22kg to 36kg, but manufacturers are now producing booster cushions with backs that cover the full 15kg to 36 kg range. Shield booster seats, which have a plastic shield in front of the child, offer less protection and should not be used.

It should also be noted that although children are best protected when secured in age appropriate child restraints, if such restraints are not available, it is still better to use an adult seat-belt on the child than leave the child unrestrained on the back seat.

Once your child’s eyes are level with the top of the back seat of the car or the child is approximately 26kg or over, they may use a seat belt with the lap belt low over the bony part of the hips (not the stomach) and the sash does not touch their face or neck.