Forty-seven out of 54 booster seats introduced last year earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s highest rating of BEST BET.
The BEST BET rating means a booster provides good seat belt fit for typical 4- to 8-year-olds in almost any car, minivan or SUV. Boosters that are rated GOOD BETs provide acceptable belt fit in almost any vehicle, while those rated Check Fit could work for some children in some vehicles. Seats designated “Not Recommended” don’t provide good belt fit and should be avoided.
Among the other new booster seats, one is a GOOD BET and six are rated Check Fit. None are Not Recommended.
Vehicle seat belts are designed for adults, and one job of a booster is to make them fit a child. IIHS has been rating boosters since 2008 on their ability to provide good lap and shoulder belt fit.
IIHS strives to cover the entire U.S. booster market with its ratings. The 54 seats added this year are made up of 36 distinct models; 19 are rated twice because they are dual-use boosters that can be used either in highback or backless mode.
The 47 new BEST BETs (32 distinct models) range in price from about $25 for the Harmony Youth Booster Elite with LATCH to $450 for the Graco Turn2Me 3-in-1 Car Seat. Several options are available for less than $40.
“Booster seats are simple, low-tech devices that don’t have to cost a lot to be effective,” said Jessica Jermakian, IIHS vice president of vehicle research. “All a booster needs to do is raise the child up a bit and guide the seat belt so it is positioned correctly. The lap belt should lie flat on the upper thighs and not up against the tummy, and the shoulder belt should fit snugly across the middle of the shoulder.”
Booster seats are designed for children who have outgrown harness-equipped restraints. Children ages 4-8 are 45% less likely to sustain injuries in crashes if they are in boosters than if they are using seat belts alone.
Children should ride in boosters until a vehicle seat belt fits correctly by itself. For some kids, that doesn’t happen until age 12 or so.
IIHS began its booster rating program after finding that many seats didn’t consistently provide good belt fit. In the Institute’s first booster ratings, only a quarter of the seats evaluated earned the BEST BET designation. Now, the vast majority of boosters tested meet that high standard.
However, choosing a booster that is a good fit for your child is only the first step. Using it on every trip is the next. Many parents stop using boosters for their children too early. Others don’t use them all the time because they’re inconvenient to carry along for taxi or ride-hailing trips, for example, and can make it crowded for three kids in the back seat. Despite a relatively low price, access remains an issue for many families.
Using an age- and size-appropriate restraint on every trip is the best way parents and caregivers can maximize their children’s safety in vehicles.
Deaths in passenger vehicles of children ages 4 to 8 — the most common ages for booster users — rose to 15.2 per million children in 2021 from 11.5 in 2012. Deaths of children ages 9 to 12, many of whom still need boosters, rose to 11.2 per million children in 2021, compared with 9.7 in 2012.