We've been told over and over again how important it is to have our babies safely buckled in to their child safety seats, but as they grow up a little more, it's also equally important that their growing bodies be strapped into booster seats better designed for their midsize frames.
Boosters are designed for children -- typically ranging from about 4 to 9 years old -- who are too big for toddler restraints but still too small to use adult safety belts alone. Most toddler seats are for kids who weigh up to 40 pounds, but a booster seat is meant for larger kids, usually up to about 80 pounds, and is specifically designed to raise the child so the vehicle's belts rest properly across the pelvis and chest.
For greatest safety don't release your child from his or her booster based on age; instead consider his or her SIZE. Safety experts generally set 4 feet 9 inches as the height at which most children can start using a seat belt without a booster; up to that point, it is imperative that those midsize kidlets be properly strapped in to properly fitting boosters.
However, according to an article we found at the Wall Street Journal, "comprehensive tests on these widely used products are raising new concerns about boosters." The article goes on to explain that "According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, a number of booster seats don't do enough to protect children in a crash and could even contribute to internal injuries."
The reason? A poor fit can result in the lap belt resting against the abdomen and causing internal injuries in a crash. Shoulder belts can cause injuries if they are too high and stretch across a passenger's neck.
The IIHS study defines their best safety bets as the Fisher-Price Safe Voyage, the Britax Parkway, the LaRoche Bros. Teddy Bear, the backless Graco TurboBooster, the backless Combi Kobuk, and the Recaro Young Style.
Unfortunately, several models tested in the IIHS study actually place the lap belt across the child's vulnerable abdomen. The list includes the Cosco/Dorel Summit, Traveler and Alpha Omega, the Cosco Highback Booster, the Graco CarGo Zephyr, the Evenflo Generations and Evenflo Chase Comfort Touch, and the Compass B505 and B510.
The Insurance Institute's test seats ranged in price from about $20 to $200, and the prices didn't necessarily correlate with the seats' performance, so remember you can't necessarily judge a product's safety based on its price.
Still, the Wall Street Journal reminds, "safety experts say the risk of injury to a child is less likely with a booster -- even a less-effective model. 'What we don't want to do is to somehow make parents think that boosters don't work, because they do,' says Kristy Arbogast, director of engineering at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. According to the hospital's research, booster seats reduce children's risk of injury in a crash by 59%." Even a poorly fitting booster seat is still better than none at all.
What's most important is that you install it properly and ensure the straps rest in the correct locations across your child's pelvis and chest. And NEVER EVER allow your child to slide the shoulder belt behind them in the seat!
Need more help choosing and using a booster seat? Check out this extremely comprehensive guide at parentcenter.com that specifically explains how you can know whether you've installed your booster seat correctly.