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Booster-seat study a boon for parents

Submitted by on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 No Comment

You’d think that now that Big Guy’s 5 I’d have a handle on this whole car seat thing, yet just yesterday I caught him trying to cheat on the booster in his dad’s car.

He’d figured out how to manipulate the seat belt so that the straps were above the booster’s arm rest. Much more comfortable for him, granted, because it was looser. But loose is not the point. I showed him several times how to fix it and, amid much griping because he doesn’t like the tighter fit, he eventually acquiesced.

It’s been a confusing car seat trip, from the first time my shaky hands installed his Graco Snug Ride infant carrier in my Ford Probe as we left the hospital.

And while there’s plenty of information out there on infant and toddler seat reliability and safety, boosters have been overlooked.

Until today, when the Virginia-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute teamed up to release a report on safety seats for older children.

The bad news: 13 of the 41 models review do such an awful job that the institute refuses to recommend them.

“It’s clear that kids in the 13 boosters we don’t recommend aren’t getting the full benefit of improved lap belt fit,” Institute president Adrian Lund said in a news release. “These boosters may increase restraint use by making children more comfortable, but they don’t position belts for optimal protection.”

Which was exactly Big Guy’s problem yesterday.

The good news: Although the full report won’t be accessible until Oct. 4, what’s already available on the site is impressive.

It starts with two examples, one of a “best bet” and one of a “not recommended.” Illustrations using crash-test dummies show why various seats fall into one category or the other. This is incredibly helpful in evaluating your own booster if it wasn’t among the 41 the institute studied.

From there, you can click on links for illustrated details on all best bet, good bet and not recommended models.

The not-recommended list seems to be overpopulated with models by Doral/Cosco and Evenflo, the king of the car-seat recall. I’m freaking out because Big Guy’s Dorel/Safety 1st Eddie Bauer model, the one he uses in my car, shows up on the list.

The government recommends car seats for children up to 40 pounds and booster seats for children over 40 pounds until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. In some states, boosters are required.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association is criticizing today’s report for looking only at belt fit and not performance.

“Some of the booster seats in this study have been given a ‘Not Recommended’ rating for belt fit even though real world experience with all booster seats demonstrates that they are providing good protection in crashes,” the association said in a news release.

That seems to conveniently overlook the fact that fit is a factor in performance, but they’re entitled to their spin.

Health officials also caution parents against abandoning models that fall in the “not recommended” category.

Dr. Kristy Arbogast, who researches child passenger safety issues at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told The Associated Press that parents should not interpret the evaluations to mean that poorly rated seats are not effective.

“The biggest disservice this would do is to encourage people to move out of booster seats because we know they’re an effective restraint, we know they reduce the risk of injury and the risk of fatality,” Arbogast said.

I never regard having more information as a disservice. You look at all the sources — this latest report, the National Transportation Safety Board’s excellent safety seat portal — then evaluate and make an informed decision.

It’s all part of being a responsible parent.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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