Ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety take the guesswork out of selecting boosters most likely to provide good lap and shoulder belt fit in a range of vehicles.
Unlike child restraints with built-in harnesses, a booster seat relies on a vehicle safety belt to buckle the child in. Its purpose is to make the adult belt fit the child better. Booster seats are for kids who have outgrown their forward-facing restraints.
Proper fit is key
Our ratings identify boosters most likely to provide good lap and shoulder belt fit. Safety belts are designed with adults in mind, not kids, but when a booster seat is doing its job, the vehicle belt will fit a child correctly. That means the lap belt will lie flat across a child’s upper thighs, not across the soft abdomen, and the shoulder belt will cross snugly over the middle of a child’s shoulder.
The Institute puts the booster seats it tests into 4 categories:
- BEST BETS are seats that provide good fit for typical 4 to 8 year-olds in almost any car, minivan, or SUV.
- GOOD BETS provide acceptable fit in most cars, minivans, or SUVs.
- Not recommended don’t provide good fit and should be avoided.
- Check fit applies to booster seats the Institute has tested that have varied results depending on child size and vehicle model.
Checking booster fit
Both the lap and shoulder belts must fit your child correctly.
Lap belt fit — The lap belt should lie flat and on top of the thighs, not higher up on the abdomen.
Shoulder belt fit — The shoulder belt should fit across the middle of the child’s shoulder. If it falls off the shoulder or rests on your child’s neck, it won’t work as well. An improper fit could encourage your child to move the belt to a dangerous position, such as behind the back or under the arm.
The Institute assesses boosters using a special crash test dummy representing an average-size 6 year-old. Engineers measure how 3-point lap and shoulder belts fit the dummy in each of the tested boosters under 4 conditions that span the range of safety belt configurations in vehicle models. An overall rating for each booster is then assigned based on the range of scores for the lap and shoulder belt measurements.
2011 model ratings
- Video: New ratings of children’s booster seats (1:38, will open in pop-up window)
- October 2011 news release — New booster evaluations: More top-rated seats help parents make a safe choice for their kids
- Status Report, Vol. 46, No. 9 — More boosters are doing a good job of fitting safety belts to kids in the latest round of seat evaluations (PDF, 8 pages, 627 KB)
2010 model ratings
- Video: 2010 booster evaluations (01:37, will open in pop-up window)
- September 2010 news release — New booster ratings: 21 BEST BETS and 7 GOOD BETS; 8 out of 72 seats evaluated aren’t recommended
- Status Report, Vol. 45, No. 9— Cover story on booster evaluations (PDF, 8 pages, 2 MB)
2009 model ratings
- December 2009 news release — BEST BETS & 6 GOOD BETS; 11 out of 60 seats evaluated aren’t recommended
- Status Report, Vol. 44, No. 11: Which booster is best? (2009, PDF)
Keeping children safe in crashes — choosing the right type of restraint for a child’s age and size