The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) on Thursday came out with a list of this year's best and worst car booster seats for children. The ratings examine how well the boosters raise children up so that seat belts fit them properly.
"Correct belt fit means that the lap belt lies flat across a child's upper thighs and the shoulder belt crosses snugly over the middle of the shoulder," IIHS' report states.
The report rated two booster seat models: highback and backless. Highback boosters provide a way to route the shoulder and lap belts through the seat, and can also offer head support. Backless boosters have a guide for the lap belts and usually require a plastic clip to correctly position the shoulder belts.
HOW THE BOOSTERS ARE CATEGORIZED
Best Bet: This booster provides correct belt positioning for an average 4-to-8-year-old child in almost any car, minivan or SUV.
Good Bet: This booster provides acceptable belt position in most vehicles.
Check fit: This booster had varied results depending on child size and vehicle model. The booster may provide a good belt fit for some children.
Not recommended: This booster does not provide a good belt fit.
RATINGS AND PRICES
There are 31 new models in IIHS' 2013 evaluation. Prices for the new top-rated boosters range from $18 to as much as $300. Nineteen of those boosters were ranked as "Best Bet."
Some of the boosters in that category, according to the report, include the backless Graco Connext (around $18), the backless Harmony Transit Deluxe (around $25), and the Graco Affix (around $85).
One of the most expensive "Best Bet" boosters in the backless mode is Ferrari Beline SP, which retails for about $300. This model is a dual-use booster, which means it can be both highback and backless.
There are two booster seats made by Dorel Juvenile Group Inc, the Safety 1st All-in-One and Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite, that have been in the "Not Recommended" category since 2009.
Only one of this year's models, Ferrari Beline SP, in the highback mode made it under "Good Bet." Eleven of the new models are in the "Check Fit" category.
In total, there are five "Good Bet" and 58 "Best Bet" boosters for 2013, which is more than any other prior year.
BOOSTER SEAT IMPROVEMENTS
IIHS started rating boosters five years ago after realizing most seats were doing a poor job of what it describes as "fitting safety belts correctly and consistently" on children in different vehicles.
The Institute's first published ratings in 2008 only had 10 out of 41 models in the "Best Bet" category, and 13 boosters were "Not Recommended."
Now there are fewer models that are "Not Recommended," and the number of models in the "Best Bet" rating have drastically increased.
"That is largely because manufacturers have taken note of the ratings and work with the Institute to build seats to do what they are supposed to do -- elevate children so safety belts that were designed for adults better fit their smaller frames and put lap/shoulder belts in the proper place for the best protection in a crash," according to the IIHS report.
ADVICE FOR PARENTS
The Institute wants consumers to pay attention to every rating and think about how they will be using the seat in their vehicles. One important factor the report mentions is considering whether a child is old enough and physically big enough to be in a booster.
Jessica Jermakian, senior research scientist at the Institute and an expert on child passenger safety, says there should not be a rush to put children in boosters.
"It's best to keep kids seated in the back seat in a harness-equipped child restraint as long as possible, up to the height and weight limits of the seat," Jermakian states in the report.
The Institute's findings show that when children are ready for boosters, they are crucial for safety, reporting "Children ages 4-8 in boosters are 45 percent less likely to sustain injuries in crashes than kids restrained by belts alone."