Each year since 2009, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has released their IIHS booster ratings. These ratings are based primarily on the fit of the 6 year old crash test dummy. Fit is the best indication of performance: regardless of how many optional features a booster seat has, if it doesn’t place the vehicle seat belt properly on the child, it can’t do its job.
Proper Booster Seat Belt Fit
Poor Booster Seat Belt Fit
Boosters seem simple enough but there are a few moving parts when it comes to seat belt fit.
Here are a few things to look for:
- A lap belt that is either too high on the child’s stomach or too low on the child’s thighs puts the internal organs and spine at risk
- A shoulder belt that slides off the edge of the child’s shoulder
- A shoulder belt touching the child’s neck
- A shoulder belt that hovers in front of the child’s chest instead of crossing the torso firmly and evenly.
Why Booster Seats Are Important
It’s crucial that children who are at least 5 years old, have outgrown their harnessed seats, and do not yet pass the Five Step Test to sit in only a vehicle seat belt continue to ride in a belt positioning boosters until they are 10-12 years old.
Seats on the List
The IIHS evaluates belt positioning boosters. Belt positioning boosters may be found as stand alone seats, or as a mode of a child restraint which performs multiple functions
- Backless Boosters: Backless boosters have a seat portion placed under the child, and as the name indicates, no back
- High Back Boosters: High back boosters have both a seat portion, a back and a head rest
- Combination Seats: Combination seats work as a forward facing harness, then as a high back booster, and sometimes as a backless booster
- Multimode Seats: Multimode seats have a rear facing function, a forward facing harness, a high back booster mode, and sometimes a backless booster mode
If you are in the market for a new belt positioning booster for your older child, you probably won’t be looking at combination seats or multi-mode seats at the store, but parents who bought them for younger children earlier may eventually plan to convert them into booster mode.
What the Rating Means
There are some things you need to consider before reading the evaluations.
- Keep Calm
- Don’t Panic
- As long as it fits your child correctly, keep using your booster for now, even if it’s not on the best bet list!
Change is Good
In 2009, not even a sixth of the boosters IIHS evaluated made the highest rating. This outside pressure on the industry caused rapid reform and improvement in belt fit. Today, almost all of the boosters on the market will provide an excellent fit on the 6 year old crash dummy.
The following list is the newest addition to the IIHS booster rating. This list does not include many boosters on the market that have been rated in previous years by IIHS, but you can search for their ratings by brand on their website.
Best Bets provided a good belt fit for almost all children in almost all vehicles.
These boosters provide good belt fit for typical 4 to 8 year-old children in almost any car, minivan, or SUV.
Aidia Explorer 2-in-1 (backless mode)
Aidia Explorer 2-in-1 (high back mode)
Aidia Pathfinder (high back)
Aidia Scout (backless)
Baby Trend PROtect Yumi (high back)
Baby Trend PROtect Yumi 2-in-1 (backless mode)
Baby Trend PROtect Yumi 2-in-1 (high back mode)
Britax Frontier Clicktight (high back)
Britax Parkway SGL (high back mode)
Britax Pinnacle Clicktight (high back)
Britax Pioneer (high back)
BubbleBum Pink (backless)
Chicco KidFit Zip (backless mode)
Chicco KidFit Zip (high back mode)
Chicco KidFit Zip Air (backless mode)
Chicco KidFit Zip Air (high back mode)
Evenflo Big Kid (backless mode)
Evenflo Big Kid (highback mode)
Evenflo Platinum SafeMax (high back)
Evenflo SafeMax 3-in-1 (backless mode)
Evenflo SafeMax 3-in-1 (high back mode)
Graco Extend2Fit 3-in-1 (highback)
Graco 4Ever All-in-1 with Safety Surround (backless mode)
Graco 4Ever All-in-1 with Safety Surround (highback mode)
Graco Milestone All-in-One with Safety Surround (high back)
Graco Nautilus 80 Elite (backless mode)
Graco Nautilus 80 Elite (high back mode)
Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 (high back)
Graco TurboBooster (backless mode)
Graco TurboBooster (high back mode)
Graco TurboBooster with ComfortCore (backless mode)
Graco TurboBooster with ComfortCore (high back mode)
Graco TurboBooster LX with TrueShield (backless mode)
Graco TurboBooster LX with TrueShield (high back mode)
Harmony Big Boost Deluxe (backless)
Harmony Dreamtime 2.0 (backless mode)
Harmony Dreamtime 2.0 (high back mode)
KidsEmbrace Fun-Ride Backless Batman (backless)
KidsEmbrace Fun-Ride Spider-Man (backless mode)
KidsEmbrace Fun-Ride Spider-Man (high back mode)
Lil Fan Club Seat 2-in-1 (backless mode)
Safety 1st Continuum (high back)
Safety 1st Elite EX 100 Air+ (high back)
Safety 1st EverFit (high back)
Safety 1st Grow and Go Air (high back)
Safety 1st Grow and Go EX Air (high back)
Safety 1st MultiFit (high back)
Safety 1st UltraMax Air 360 (high back)
These boosters have varied results depending on child size and vehicle model.
Britax Parkway SGL (backless mode)
Lil Fan Club Seat 2-in-1 (high back mode)
Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 (high back)
These boosters don’t provide good belt fit and should be avoided.
Cosco Easy Elite (high back)
Cosco Highback 2-in-1 DX (high back)
Not reviewed: mifold
New booster substitute won’t be rated
The mifold Grab-and-Go Booster is a highly portable belt-positioning device, but isn’t really a booster.
Read more about our experience with the mifold in our review.
The vast majority of new booster seats earn the top rating of BEST BET in IIHS evaluations, but bad designs that fail to provide good belt fit continue to slip through.
IIHS tests the fit against the Hybrid III 6 year old child crash test dummy. While crash test dummies do an excellent job mimicking statistical generalities, they are not representative of individual children. A booster may not give a great fit on the dummy, or even on a particular real child, it might give a GREAT fit on your child, and that’s what matters. Keep in mind this is NOT a crash test. All boosters on the list have been self-certified as passing the stringent FMVSS 213 requirements for belt positioning boosters.
If you’ve read this article, reviewed the list of recommendations, examined your child’s booster fit, and realized that maybe it’s not ideal, you may consider purchasing another booster. Review our list of recommended high back and backless boosters to organize your shopping list.
Do you have a question or concern about your booster? First, fit your child’s booster correctly. Then, keep using the booster seat you own, and make an appointment with a Child Passenger Safety Technician today to help evaluate the belt fit.