With car accidents as the leading cause of death for children younger than 18, it's imperative to have the appropriate type of car safety restraint that also fits properly in your car. The latest analysis of booster seats by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, or IIHS, has produced 31 booster seats with the "best bet" designation -- a record number since the IIHS started rating booster seats in 2008.
The best bet designation means these booster seats correctly position the car's seat belt on a typical 4- to 8-year-old in almost any car. What's more, parents and caregivers don't need to spend a lot of money on a booster seat with a good fit. Prices for the seats in the IIHS' best bet category start at just $15.
Booster seats are designed for kids who are too big for forward-facing car seats, but too small to fit properly in the car's seat belt. The booster raises the child up so the car seat belt fits properly over their hips or thighs, versus the abdomen, and across the chest in the center of the shoulder, versus sliding down the arm or cutting into the neck. Booster seat laws vary from state to state, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children remain in a booster seat until they are 4-foot-9-inches and are between ages 8 and 12. Regardless of their size, children should ride in the car's rear seat until age 13.
In the latest analysis, engineers at the IIHS tested a total of 62 booster seats, though some were tested twice since some models have a back that can be removed, making them both highback boosters and backless boosters. Since these so-called dual use seats were tested twice, a total of 83 confgurations were actually evaluated. The tests look for proper seat belt fit on a dummy that represents the size of the average 6-year-old.
While 31 booster seats received the best bet designation and another five seats were rated "good bets," meaning there was acceptable belt fit in most cars, there were still 41 seats that fell in the "check fit" gray area, meaning that they may work for some children in some cars. Six booster seats were rated as "not recommended" by the IIHS.
"Just four years into our ratings program, parents have a wide variety of top-rated seats to choose from," said Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research, in a statement. "Still, boosters that don't consistently provide good belt fit outnumber the ones that do, so consumers need to keep paying attention to this issue."
2011 IIHS Booster Seat Evaluation Results
Britax Frontier 85
Britax Frontier 85 SICT
Britax Parkway SGL (highback mode)
Chicco KeyFit Strada (highback mode)
Clek Oobr (highback mode)
Cosco Pronto (highback mode)
Cybex Solution X-Fix
Diono/Sunshine Kids Monterey (highback mode)
Eddie Bauer Auto Booster (highback mode)
Evenflo Big Kid Amp
Evenflo Big Kid Sport (backless mode)
Evenflo Symphony 65 e3
Ferrari Dreamway SP (highback mode)
Graco Argos 70 (highback mode)
Graco TurboBooster – Baldwin (highback mode)
Graco TurboBooster Elite (highback mode)
Harmony Cruz Youth Booster/Harmony Carpooler
Harmony Dreamtime (backless mode)
Harmony Dreamtime (highback mode)
Harmony Olympian/Secure Comfort Deluxe
Harmony Youth Booster Seat
Kids Embrace Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR (highback mode)
Safety 1st Boost Air Protect (highback mode)
Safety 1st S1 Rümi Air
The First Years B570 Pathway
Britax Parkway SG (highback mode)
Combi Kobuk Air Thru (backless mode)
Combi Kobuk Air Thru (highback mode)
Evenflo Symphony 65
Maxi-Cosi Rodi (highback mode)
Evenflo Generations 65
Safety 1st All-in-One
Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite
Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.