Road Trip with Kids? Find Best Booster Seats

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, booster seats rely on vehicle safety belts to restrain children. Boosters are supposed to make adult belts fit children 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 belt fit for typical 4 to 8 year-olds in almost any car, minivan or SUV.
  • GOOD BETs provide acceptable belt fit in most cars, minivans or SUVs.
  • Not recommended don’t provide good belt 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.

Good lap belt fit

Good lap belt fit
outline = arm rest removed
to show belt position

Poor lap belt fit

Poor lap belt fit
outline = arm rest removed
to show belt position

 

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.

Good shoulder belt fit

Good shoulder belt fit

Poor shoulder belt fit

Poor shoulder belt fit

Poor shoulder belt fit

Poor shoulder belt fit

 

Good shoulder belt fit

Test protocol

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.

 

 

RELATED INFORMATION

2012 model ratings

2011 model ratings

  • 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

2009 model ratings

Keeping children safe in crashes — choosing the right type of restraint for a child's age and size

Q&A: Child passenger safety

NHTSA/Ad Council infographic: choosing the right seat Go to external website


Technical information