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2008 booster seat study and evaluation.

After four or five years of buckling and unbuckling their child in a 5-point harness carseat, parents can't wait until the day when that child graduates to a booster, a backless or highback seat that is supposed to position their precious cargo so that he fits properly in the seat using the vehicle's seat belt. Since young children--those between the ages of four and eight--are still not tall enough nor have enough mass enough to use vehicle seat belts alone, boosters are the in-between solution that make kids feel more grown up and parents less hassled (passing a booster between two cars is infinitely easier than uninstalling a carseat from one car and re-installing it in another). All 50 states have a child restraint law that require that children ride in some form of child restraint (a 5-point harness carseat or booster seat), and many of these states allow children to start riding in just a booster seat at age four. Though booster seats may be the ideal solution for children until they are age eight, 80 pounds or 4'9", approximate minimum measurements for someone to ride in a car without a special restraint or seat, just how well do they fit the children they're designed to protect?

A 2003 study found that children in a belt-positioning booster are 59% less likely to be injured in a crash than children that use a seat belt alone; and a 2006 study found that boosters reduce the risk of fatality by 28% among booster-aged children. So clearly using a booster is a good idea. But a booster's efficacy is only as good as its fit.

In January 2008, the National Highway Transportation Administration evaluated carseats for ease of use and found that, despite their safety statistics in theory, many were too hard to install, thereby making them less safe in actual practice. A September 2008 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), headed by Matthew P. Reed and his colleagues at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, evaluated the belt fit of 31 popular booster seats. Unlike carseats, boosters don't involve complicated installation that could potentially negate their safety if incorrectly installed, so belt fit is a crucial determinant of how well it would do its job in an impact.

Boosters are designed to do three things: 1) improve lap belt angle by raising the child relative to the seat, 2) improve the routing of the belt so it lies properly across a child's pelvis and shoulder, and 3) control and improve a child's posture so that he is more comfortable and less likely to move the seat belt off of him. A properly fitted belt positions the lap and shoulder parts of the seat belt over the parts of a child that could bear the most load without serious injury: the bony pelvis and the shoulder. But given the large selection of boosters available on the market, the many different types of vehicles and vehicle seats and the different sizes of booster-aged children, it is almost impossible for parents to know what booster seat will fit their child. This recent study may help them make an informed decision.

Reed et al. found that ten of the 31 backless and highback tested booster seats provided a "best" belt fit, and five provided a "good" belt fit; thirteen performed poorly enough so that they are not recommended at all. They used a six-year-old child crash test dummy in a range of conditions that are found in model year 2001-2006 cars, minivans and SUVs. The results indicated that generally backless boosters provided a better lap fit, and highback boosters provided better shoulder fit (because of the shoulder routing guides). They also found that lap belt guides that hold the belt forward and down, and integrated shoulder belt guides (found in the booster backrest of highback boosters) provided better overall belt fit. Most significantly, the researchers found that booster design, specifically the "geometry of belt routing features," was more important than the vehicle seat or belt configuration in determining belt fit. They concluded that it is possible to design a booster seat that will properly fit a child and that will fit in most current vehicles.

Now that parents have this information, they should try out their child's booster in their car, with their child belted in, to make sure it fits properly. If the booster doesn't fit their child correctly, then they should consider buying one that does.

The ten "best" fit booster seats are:

* Three backless seats: Combi Kobuk, Fisher-Price Safe Voyage, and Graco TurboBooster

* Six highback seats: Britax Monarch, Britax Parkway, Fisher-Price Safe Voyage, LaRoche Bros. Teddy Bear, Recaro Young Style, and Volvo booster cushion

* One convertible when used as backless: Safeguard Go

The five "good" fit booster seats are:

* Three highbacks: Combi Kobuk, Graco Turbo Booster, and Safety Angel Ride Ryte

* Two convertibles when used as highbacks: Recaro Young Sport and Safety lst/Dorel Apex 65

The 13 disapproved booster seats are:

Compass B505, Compass B510, Cosco/Dorel Traveler, and Evenflo Big Kid Confidence; backless Safety Angel Ride Ryte; combination Cosco/Dorel Alpha Omega, Cosco/Dorel (Eddie Bauer) Summit, Cosco Highback Booster, Dorel/Safety 1st (Eddie Bauer) Prospect, Evenflo Chase Comfort Touch, Evenflo Generations, Graco CarGo Zephyr, and Safety 1st/Dorel Intera

Vikki Sloviter received her BA in history of science and medicine from Yale University. She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with her husband and three young children.
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Author:Sloviter, Vikki
Publication:Pediatrics for Parents
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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