Child safety seat laws (and child safety seats) have certainly changed in the many years since our kids were toddlers. But now that we have little grandchildren, we’re very conscious of safety seats and the laws controlling them. That’s why an article in the Washington Post was disturbing to me. The article detailed a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that claimed almost half of all child booster seats don’t ensure that adult-sized seat belts fit children properly in all vehicles. Here are excerpts:
Of 83 booster seats evaluated, 41 fell into the “check fit” category, meaning they might not provide adequate seat-belt fit for all children in all vehicles, the study found. Parents with those seats should check that the booster makes the lap belt lie flat across the child’s upper thighs and the shoulder belt fit snugly across the middle of the shoulder, researchers said. If it doesn’t do both, they said, parents should use another booster seat. The analysis covered all U.S. booster seats being manufactured.
Because vehicle seat belts are anchored in different locations, the researchers said, the same booster might properly position the seat belt in a grandparent’s sedan but not in a family’s minivan. The study covered 62 models but 83 seats because 21 models were tested in both full-back and backless positions. Some models ended up in two different categories because their full-back position better guided the shoulder belt to a proper fit, researchers said. The rankings are available at www.iihs.org.
Parents who focus on fabric colors and cup holders when shopping for a booster should hone in first on how it positions the seat belt in every vehicle in which the child will ride, experts say.
“We still have a lot of boosters out there not always doing a good job in every vehicle,” said Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an Arlington-based nonprofit organization funded by auto insurance companies.
Infant seats and convertible car seats restrain babies and younger children with their own five-point harnesses. Boosters are designed to elevate children typically ages 4 to 8 to help seat belts, which are designed to restrain adults, fit children’s smaller frame correctly. A child can suffer serious injuries to the hips, spine and internal organs in a crash — a problem known as “seat belt syndrome” — when a lap belt rides too high or the shoulder belt doesn’t properly restrain the torso.
The good news: Boosters are getting better. In 2008, the institute’s first year of analyzing booster seat-belt fit, 10 seats made the “best bets” list. That number has grown as manufacturers have made design changes, McCartt said.