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Best Booster?

This past December, the Insurances Institute of Highway Safety came out with a “Best Bet” Booster ranking.

You can click here to see the full article along with photos of the boosters on the Best Bet, Good Bet, and Not Recommended lists.  http://www.iihs.org/research/topics/boosters/default.html

I’ve seen this list posted a few times on local online boards.

So… what is good booster fit?

There are what I consider three parts to booster fit.

1st – the child must fit in the seat – shoulder width, hip width – it must be comfortable and the child must fit in the seat without adjusting to fit.

2nd – the lap part of the adult seatbelt MUST fit high on the hips. NOT up in the soft part of the tummy. If you’re in an accident, you want the impact to be on hard bone – NOT on soft internal parts. We have seen major internal bleeding when the lap part is too high into the tummy which can be very serious.

3rd – the shoulder part of the belt must lay against the shoulder  – not the neck, not the upper arm. And this upper part of the belt can NEVER be worn behind the back or under the arm. (and you can NEVER EVER use a lap belt only with a booster).

I find many people think a booster is just there to boost the child up. That is actually not the purpose of a booster seat. The booster is there to make sure the adult belt is correctly positioned on the child’s lap and shoulder.  What this means? You might not be able to simply pull a booster off a shelf and use it. You may need to try different boosters.

Many people on the Cape move their 2 or 3-year-old to a booster. I find this generally happens when the family has a younger child moving into the 2-3 year old’s toddler seat. This is flat-out not acceptable. Generally, a 2-3 year old is just simply too physically small for a booster to direct the seatbelt to the correct parts of the body. Beyond that, one important factor of a booster is that the child must be able to sit properly, with the seatbelt in the correct position, for an entire ride. This means no leaning forward, no bending over, no unbuckling, and no fooling with the seatbelt. If your child has other disabilities such as autism or low muscle tone, this can add to your challenges.

There are many seats that harness children beyond 40lbs and can get them safely to booster age. As a carseat tech, I recommend children be at least 4 and 40lbs before you think about a booster. I find many children are not mentally ready to sit properly until closer to age 6.

A Quick list of the seats that I would recommend for a parent of an older toddler, who is no longer able to rear face:

Britax Frontier ($$$), 80lb harness limit, turns into tallest booster on the market, 19″ top slots (and stay tuned for updates on this one… there is word it’s going to have taller top slots sooner), can be tricky to install

Graco Nautilus ($$), 65lb harness limit, turns into a booster, 18″ top slots

Evenflo Maestro ($), 50lb harness limit, makes an OK booster but it is very short and you will need a new booster after this harness is outgrown, 18″ top slots

OK – so you’ve decided your child is ready physically and mentally ready for a booster. Let’s look at this IIHS List of Boosters:

Let’s start with the “Not Recommended” list. The majority of these seats on this list are what we call “3 in 1″ or “alpha omega” or “all-in-one” seats. A general rule of thumb… if you used the seat with your child as a rear facing convertible, chances are it’s NOT a good booster.  They make nice rear facing and forward facing harnessed seats, but they just don’t make good boosters. I’ve never seen a child who I thought had a great fit in one of these seats. They never hit the child’s shoulder correctly, and generally they lay way too high up into the abdomen. I don’t agree with the Harmony seat or the Combi seat on this list – I’ve seen great fit with both boosters with different kids. Again – the biggest thing is trying your child in the seat.

On the Best Bet and Good Bet list – a handful of these seats cannot be used without a headrest behind the seat or support behind the head. If you have an older minivan with low seat backs, or you will be using this in a center position without a headrest, you need to factor this into your decision. All Dorel (Cosco, Eddie Bauer, Maxi Cosi, Safety 1st) Boosters require a headrest, as do the Evenflo boosters and a handful of others. The key is to do your research before you buy.

Another point to consider – some of the boosters have a very wide base – which can make it difficult to buckle in if you have rigid belt stocks (held into place with metal instead of a strap). You should also consider this if you need to fit three seats in a row.

Bottom line, if possible, try out a booster before buying it.  If you’re buying online, do some research and make sure the booster works well with your car. If the booster is not the correct fit, try a different booster.

Many people don’t realize how improperly fitting their booster is… if you’d like someone to check it out, please see a certified carseat tech, or call ABC to make an appointment to come in and get your boosters fitted.

Some other resources to look at about booster fit:

Booster Fit by Safe Ride News

Car Seat Blog: The 5-step Test – A visual on why bigger kids should be in boosters

And – from the Britaxusa.com site:

Your child will be ready for a booster seat when any of the following is true:

  • Your child reaches the top weight or height allowed for their seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and also included in the seat’s user guide.)
  • Your child’s shoulders are above the top harness slots.
  • Your child’s ears have reached the top of the seat.

Bottom line – booster are safe and an important next step for our older children – however they MUST fit correctly and be USED correctly to work properly. Make sure your child is riding safely in their booster!

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