Among the 41 models of new child booster seats for 2014, 27 have been awarded the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) BEST BET designation -- more than in any prior year.
In addition, 3 were named GOOD BETs and 8 boosters are in a category the institute calls "Check Fit." There are 3 new models that the IIHS does not recommend using as boosters.
Prices for BEST BET boosters start around $25 and go up to about $370 -- depending on features -- and several models are LATCH compatible.
LATCH, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is a system intended to make it easier to attach child restraints securely. Typically, LATCH has only been used with rear-facing or forward-facing child restraints. With or without LATCH, a booster provides significant safety benefits.
Rating the seats
Boosters earn a rating of BEST BET, GOOD BET, Check Fit or Not Recommended, based on a protocol that involves measuring how 3-point lap and shoulder belts fit a child-size test dummy seated in the booster on a stationary test fixture. Measurements are taken under 4 conditions spanning the range of safety belt configurations in passenger vehicles. The evaluations focus on belt fit and don't involve crash tests.
A BEST BET booster correctly positions belts on a typical 4-to-8-year-old child in almost any car, minivan or SUV. A GOOD BET provides acceptable belt fit in most vehicles. 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.
The Check Fit designation means that the booster may provide good belt fit for some children in some vehicles, but not as many as boosters that earn either of the top two ratings. Belt fit can vary depending on child size and vehicle model. Before buying these boosters, parents should try them out to see if they properly position safety belts on their children in the vehicles they will ride in.
In addition to information on models new this year, IIHS maintains ratings for older booster seats still on the market. Altogether, IIHS has ratings for 69 BEST BET and eight GOOD BET boosters, 35 Check Fit boosters and five Not Recommended seats for 2014.
"Buying a booster seat can be confusing," says Jessica Jermakian, a senior research scientist at the Institute and an expert on child passenger safety. "There are lots of models and features to choose from. Until we started our ratings six years ago, parents couldn't be sure that the booster they'd put in their shopping cart would actually provide the right belt fit for their child once they unpacked the seat and installed it in the family vehicle. Our ratings take the guesswork out of purchasing a booster seat."
She notes that most new models in recent years earn a BEST BET or GOOD BET rating, and many manufacturers check in with the institute during the development process to gauge how their designs will rate.
Missing the mark
In a setback this year, three new boosters landed in the Not Recommended category: the highback Diono Olympia and Diono Pacifica and the Kids Embrace Batman No Back Booster.
Shoulder belt fit is the issue with both Diono models. Highback boosters have guides to route lap and shoulder belts and can offer some head support. The shoulder belt guides on the Olympia and Pacifica put the belt in a position that touches the face in several safety belt configurations instead of placing the belt across the center of the chest. The guides aren't adjustable.
In contrast, another new Diono model, the Rainier, earns a GOOD BET rating when used as a highback booster. The Rainier's adjustable headrest allows parents to change the position of the shoulder belt guide to achieve acceptable shoulder belt fit.
Lap belt fit is the problem with the Batman No Back booster. The armrests that serve as the lap belt path keep the belt too far out on the thighs. A better choice for kids who dig superheroes, according to IIHS, would be a highback model from Kids Embrace, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle booster, which is a BEST BET.
Kids Embrace also sells a highback Batman and a highback Spider-Man booster, which would rate the same as the highback Ninja Turtle. Other BEST BET backless-only options are the Baby Trend Hybrid No Back and the Diono Solana.
The Institute continues to advise consumers to avoid using as boosters two carry-over models from Dorel Juvenile, the Safety 1st All-in-One and Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite. These seats have been on the Not Recommended list since 2009 because they don't provide proper belt fit. They leave the lap belt too high on the abdomen and the shoulder belt too far out on the shoulder.
As with any child safety seat, consumers should be on the lookout for manufacturer recalls. The Institute includes recall information for booster seats with its ratings.
Current year booster ratings
IIHS BEST BET Booster
- Baby Trend Hybrid 3-in-1 (backless mode)
- Baby Trend Hybrid No Back (backless)
- Britax Frontier 90 (highback)
- Britax Pinnacle 90 (highback)
- Britax Pioneer 70 (highback)
- BubbleBum Neon (backless)
- Cybex Solution X-Fix (highback)
- Diono Solana (backless)
- Dream On Me Turbo Booster (highback mode)
- Eddie Bauer Deluxe Belt-Positioning Booster (highback mode)
- Eddie Bauer Deluxe Highback 65 (highback)
- Evenflo Chase (highback)
- Evenflo Symphony 65 (highback)
- Graco Argos 80 Elite 3-in-1 (backless mode)
- Graco Argos 80 Elite 3-in-1 (highback mode)
- Graco 4Ever All-in-1 (backless mode)
- Graco 4Ever All-in-1 (highback mode)
- Graco Milestone All-in-1 (highback)
- Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 with Safety Surround (highback mode)
- Kids Embrace Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (highback)
- Maxi-Cosi Rodi AP (highback mode)
- Maxi-Cosi RodiFix (highback)
- Peg Perego Viaggio HBB 120 (highback mode)
- Recaro Performance Booster (highback)
- Safety 1st Store 'n Go (highback mode)
- Safety 1st Store 'n Go No-Back (backless)
- Safety 1st Summit 65 (highback)
- Baby Trend Hybrid 3-in-1 (highback mode)
- Cybex Solution Q-Fix (highback)
- Diono Rainier (highback)
- Dream On Me Coupe Booster (backless)
- Dream On Me Turbo Booster (backless mode)
- Eddie Bauer Deluxe Belt-Positioning Booster (backless mode)
- Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 with Safety Surround (backless mode)
- Harmony Folding Travel Booster (highback)
- Maxi-Cosi Rodi AP (backless mode)
- Peg Perego Viaggio HBB 120 (backless mode)
- Safety 1st Store ’n Go (backless mode)
- Diono Olympia (highback)
- Diono Pacifica (highback)
- Kids Embrace Batman No Back Booster (backless)