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Best booster seats to keep your kids safe

By Barbara Marquand on November 24th, 2013

Booster seats are supposed to protect children who have outgrown child safety seats yet aren't ready for adult seat belts alone.

But some boosters provide a better fit than others.

This year 19 of 31 new models evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety earned the top rating of "Best Bet," and one model earned a "Good Bet" rating. Eleven models fell into the "check fit" category.

A full list of booster ratings is available on the IIHS website.

The institute started rating boosters five years ago after research found that most seats weren't fitting safety belts correctly or consistently on children in a variety of vehicles. Evaluators measure how lap and shoulder belts fit child-size test dummies seated in boosters. The tests take into account a range of safety belt configurations in today's cars, minivans and SUVs.

Big boost in ratings

The good news is that booster seat makers are getting better at making seats that fit well with adult safety belts. In the first-ever published ratings in 2008, only 10 of 41 models earned a best-bet rating, and 13 seats landed on the "not recommended" list.

Now only two seats are not recommended by the institute. Those are the Safety 1st All-in-One and Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite, both made by Dorel Juvenile Group Inc. Six of the company's other models, however, earn Best Bet ratings, and one model earns a Good Bet rating.

Overall, there are 58 Best Bet boosters and five Good Bet boosters on the market this year. Those include the newest seats and older models that were tested in previous years. The institute evaluates boosters as they are introduced; the ratings carry over into other model years until the seats are discontinued.

"Parents should have an easy time finding a top-rated booster seat since there are more this year than ever before," Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research, says in a press statement. "At the same time, consumers should continue to consult our ratings before buying because name brand, price and style don't always equate with proper lap and shoulder belt fit."

Prices of top-rated boosters range from $18 to $300.

What the ratings mean

A Best Bet rating means the booster positions seat belts correctly on a typical 4- to 8-year-old child in almost any passenger vehicle, the institute says. A Good Bet provides acceptable fit in most vehicles.

With boosters in the Check Fit category, the fit depends on the child and the vehicle. The institute recommends that parents check whether these boosters fit their children in the vehicles they'll be riding in. The lap belt should lie flat across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt should cross snugly over the middle of the shoulder.

Most new booster seat models earn best-bet ratings because manufactures now design seats to meet the institute's standards. Designers from some companies have traveled to the institute's Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Va., to try out their prototypes.

Children should use booster seats after they reach the height and weight limit of forward-facing car seats and until they are big enough for adult seat belts to fit property. Some children aren't ready to graduate from booster seats until age 12.

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