Car-safety group: Half of child booster seats pose risks

— -- Half of children's car booster seats aren't good enough to ensure a proper fit with safety belts, a safety group funded by the insurance industry says in a report out Thursday.

Six were so bad the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recommended parents avoid them.

Booster seats, which are recommended for children who have outgrown forward-facing child seats, are designed to raise kids up so adult-sized safety belts fit properly. Children aged 4-8 in booster seats are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than those using only seat belts.

Not all boosters are doing that well.

Still, a record number of booster seats got the top rating for their ability to properly secure children in cars, but Booster seats were rated based on how well they fit 4 to 8 year olds with the lap and shoulder belts in a wide range of vehicles.

The IIHS says its ratings are important because it's impossible to tell which booster seats are better just by comparing prices, brands or features.

Child-safety advocate Joseph Colella calls it "a very significant regulatory shortfall" that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn't evaluate booster seats based on how well they position seat belts seeing "that is their primary function." The IIHS' ratings put pressure on manufacturers to improve belt fit, but Colella says it should be required, not voluntary.

Although the IIHS says booster seats have improved in the three years it has been testing them, it is concerned that those requiring parents to check the fit still outnumber the good ones. Of 83 seats tested, 41 got a "check fit" rating, and 31 were rated "best bets" or "good bets" by the IIHS.

Four booster seats made by Evenflo and two by Cosco's Safety 1st brand were rated so poorly the IIHS recommended consumers not use them. They are: the Evenflo Chase, Express, Generations 65 and Sightseer models and Safety 1st's All-in-One and Omega Elite.

If seat belts aren't positioned properly, children can hit parts of the vehicle in a crash and even be injured by the belts, which can slice into internal organs.

The IIHS also reported states that raised the requirements for booster seats to cover children through ages 7 or 8 had 17% fewer fatal or debilitating injuries to booster seat-aged children.

The IIHS singled out the Canadian company Harmony Juvenile Products as a "standout" in booster seat design because all five of its seats were "best bets." The first inflatable booster seat, the Bubblebum, also got the top rating.

"The best protection is not provided by 'a booster' but by 'the right booster' for the child and the vehicle," says Colella of Traffic Safety Projects.