A record 31 booster car seats earned the "Best Bet" safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and another five boosters were named "Good Bets."
Seats that meet the Best Bet criteria correctly position a vehicle safety belt on a typical 4- to 8-year-old child in almost any car, minivan or SUV. Seats that are Good Bets provide an acceptable belt fit in most vehicles.
Six boosters don't provide a proper belt fit, according to the institute's ratings. Those seats, which the institute recommends avoiding, are:
- Evenflo Chase
- Evenflo Express
- Evenflo Generations 65
- Evenflo Sightseer
- Safety 1st All-in-One
- Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite
However, some other Evenflo and Safety 1st models make the Best Bets list.
Booster seats are for children who have outgrown forward-facing child restraints. The seat should elevate a child and allow the lap and shoulder belts to sit in the correct position to restrain the child during a crash. Some boosters accomplish this better than others, but it's difficult to differentiate by price and features alone. The institute started rating boosters in 2008 to inform parents about which models do the best job. The ratings focus on belt fit--not crash performance.
Engineers evaluated 62 booster models in the latest round, including 21 dual-use seats, which can work in either high-back or backless booster mode. A dual-use seat is rated separately in each mode.
Forty-one booster seats fall into a neutral "check fit" category; they work for some children in some vehicles. The institute advises parents to make sure the lap belt lies flat across a child's upper thighs and the shoulder belt crosses snugly over the middle of the shoulder.
"Just four years into our ratings program, parents have a wide variety of top-rated seats to choose from," Anne McCartt, the institute's senior vice president for research, said in a press release. "Still, boosters that don't consistently provide good belt fit outnumber the ones that do, so consumers need to keep paying attention to this issue."