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Booster Seats Getting Safer

While many drivers focus on getting a low car insurance quote, many forget how important it is to have a good child seat in place in terms of safety precautions. The latest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show booster seats continue to improve, with this year’s research designating 31 models as Best Bets, meaning they position safety belts appropriately for most 4- to 8-year-olds in the majority of cars, minivans and sport utility vehicles.

While some cost hundreds of dollars, the cheaper seats rated among the Best Bets may cost less than $15. The number of seats qualifying for this highest rating has increased significantly in a short time. In 2008 and 2009 10 or fewer seats were rated so highly. In 2010, 21 earned the award, due to a push by manufacturers seeking to improve their seats.

Basis of Evaluation

Booster seats are examined to see how well they will protect children based on the way they position safety belts. Since children differ in size and vehicles differ in the spacing of seats and belts, there is no perfect fit for all situations. IIHS attempts to find those seats which will best protect children of the appropriate age range for most vehicles, but encourages parents to do their own research. The test does not look at crash performance, only belt fit. According to IIHS, proper belt fit secures a child by the upper thighs using the lap belt and routes the shoulder belt over the middle of the child’s shoulder.

Seats are divided into several categories. The Best Bets are most likely to provide safety in the largest number of vehicles. Good Bets, of which there were 5 this year, provide an acceptable fit in most vehicles. There were 6 which engineers found did not provide proper belt fit under most circumstances, which the IIHS warns consumers against using.

The largest category of 41 seats are designated “check fit,” meaning they may be appropriate for some vehicles but not for others. Seats with more than one mode are generally examined twice by engineers, since they may provide different fits depending on the configuration.

Parents’ Perspective

Proper safety belt fitting can make a significant difference in promoting child safety. Children grow at different rates, so age guidelines for using booster seats must be considered general, and parents should keep in mind a child larger or smaller than average might be better served by a slightly different belt fit.

IIHS senior vice president for research, Anne McCartt, noted manufacturers sometimes use similar or identical names for related models of booster seats, so the safety-savvy should look at manufacture dates and model numbers to ensure they are getting the right thing. They should also recall if the vehicle they drive affects booster seat fit as much as auto insurance quotes.