IIHS Revises Booster Ratings, Two Models Mistakenly Given High Marks

IIHS Revises Booster Ratings, Two Models Mistakenly Given High Marks
Image: IIHS
October 29, 2015

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is revising its 2014 booster seat ratings after it discovered that two models were rated using an old testing protocol.

The Eddie Bauer Deluxe Highback 65 and the Safety 1st Summit 65 were awarded a "best bet" designation when they should have been designated as "not recommended."

These seats, which can be used either with internal harnesses or as boosters, but parents and caregivers are not advised to purchase these seats for use as boosters. There is no problem with either of them when used with the internal harness.

Since seat belts are designed to fit adults, the purpose of a booster seat is to make the seat belt fit a child correctly. Correct fit means the belt lies flat across a child's upper thighs, not across the soft abdomen, and the shoulder belt crosses snugly over the middle of a child's shoulder.

The concern about the Eddie Bauer Deluxe Highback 65 and Safety 1st Summit 65, both manufactured by Dorel Juvenile, is that while the shoulder belt crosses the child's body at the middle of the shoulder, it is positioned too far forward. In that position, the shoulder belt would be less effective in a crash.

IIHS evaluates boosters using a test dummy representing an average-size 6-year-old. Engineers measure how safety belts fit the dummy in each of the tested boosters under four conditions that span the range of safety belt configurations in vehicle models. Based on these measurements, a seat is designated a "best bet," "good bet," "check Fit," or "not recommended" to reflect the likelihood that the booster will work in any vehicle.

The Institute's original booster rating protocol called for measuring only the shoulder belt's lateral position. It didn't take into account whether the shoulder belt was close enough to the dummy's body.

During preparations for the 2014 booster ratings release, the protocol was amended to limit the distance allowed between a reference point on the dummy's chest and the shoulder belt to 1 centimeter. If the belt is within that distance of the chest, it will be close enough to the shoulder to provide good crash protection. Booster manufacturers were informed of the revised protocol.

However, the Eddie Bauer Deluxe Highback 65 and Safety 1st Summit 65, though new for 2014, were mistakenly evaluated according to the old protocol. The gap between the chest reference point and the shoulder belt with these two boosters is more than 1 centimeter in all the Institute's test conditions. This fact was discovered only recently, when the seats were re-evaluated as part of a research study. Since then, IIHS has re-evaluated every booster seat listed in the ratings and currently on the market and has not encountered the problem on any others.

IIHS regrets that some consumers chose these two seats because of our erroneous recommendation. It's important to note that the Not Recommended rating applies only when the seats are used as boosters. Families who own either model are advised to use it with the harness. Both seats can be used safely with the harness until the child reaches 65 pounds or 4 feet 1 inch.

Children who have outgrown the weight or height limit for the harness should continue to use the seats as boosters if no other booster is available. Parents are advised to purchase a different seat that provides better belt fit as soon as possible. "Best bet" boosters can cost as little as $20. Until a replacement can be obtained, a child for whom an adult safety belt doesn't yet fit properly is better off using any booster than none at all.