Is Your Child's Booster Seat a Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Family Matters on 10.19.11
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Photo: Scott Schram/Creative Commons

Car seat safety has evolved by leaps and bounds over the last decade or two. Now, most states require infants under age one and less than 20 pounds to be in a rear-facing car seat.  Forward-facing car seats are generally required until a child reaches age four and 40 pounds, followed by a belt-positioning booster seat until age six or eight, depending on where you live. Although our parents marvel that we ever survived, given the fact that none of these regulations existed when we were tots, it's nearly impossible to ignore the fact that car safety measures have significantly reduced injuries and deaths as a result of accidents.

I've never been a rule-breaker, and car seat safety was certainly no exception for this hyper-careful mama. I carefully reviewed car seat choices for my tiny infants and selected comfortable, yet safe big-kid models when the time came. My oldest rides happily in a belt-positioning booster seat, which I took for granted would be safe because a) it wouldn't be sold in stores if it weren't up to par, and b) it's major function is to raise the child up so that the car's seat belt fits him in all the right places. How hard can that be? Very, apparently.

So I was more than a little shocked when I read last week that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has deemed six booster models to be "not recommended" for use in any vehicle. The apparently less-than-stellar seats are:

Evenflo Chase
Evenflo Express
Evenflo Generations 65
Evenflo Sightseer
Safety 1st All-in-One
Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite

Of the remaining 62 models that were scrutinized for their ability to position a seat belt, 31 were proclaimed "best bets," including the Cosco Pronto (high-back), Chicco KeyFit Strada (high-back) and Graco TurboBooster Elite (high-back).

Five others were named "good bets."

Perhaps most disturbing of all of the results, however, is the fact that 41 models were classified as "check fit," which means that they might fit some children in certain types of vehicles. I don't know about you, but I broke out in a cold sweat reading that. The vagueness of that statement and the questionable functionality of these seats based on the type of vehicle you drive leave a whole lot of room for error, particularly when you're carrying precious cargo.

Naturally, I hightailed it out to my car because I couldn't remember exactly which seats we have. First, I recognized how horribly difficult these companies make it for parents to check the make and model of the seat. Some have the name on the front, but we had to uninstall all but one. Anyway, one booster was an untested Evenflo model. The next is the Safety 1st Summit, a car seat/booster combo that's currently installed as a car seat. It was tagged with the ever-ambiguous "check fit" recommendation. I made sure that the shoulder and lap belts fit the way they should, as the Institute recommends, and I plan to re-check it again regularly.

So what's the bottom line here? First, make sure you return your warranty cards whenever you purchase a baby or child-related item. That's how companies notify consumers when a recall or other issue occurs. Second, just because the seat is appropriate for your tyke now doesn't mean it will be once he goes through another growth spurt. So closely monitor reports like these, as well as the overall fit and functionality of your kid's seat to make sure he's traveling not only in style, but safely as well.

How does your booster seat hold up against this report? Will you be rushing out to purchase a new one, or basking in the afterglow of your wise (and a little bit lucky) purchase?

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