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Booster seats safe, group says
Safe Kids rebuts report on unsatisfactory models
Ken Hale buckles son River, 6, into his booster seat Sunday. Parents are required by law to use child car seats for all children younger than 6. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A recent report on booster seat safety has caused confusion and undue concern for parents, the nation’s largest child safety advocacy group says.

Last week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released ratings of 60 booster seats, which are used for children in the transition between "convertible" child car seats and a vehicle’s standard seat belts. The institute put 11 of the seats on its "not recommended" list, including the Alpha Omega and Dorel brands.

The report said the seats were not safe because the lap belts were too high on the abdomen and the shoulder belt too far out on the shoulder. The institute came up with the ratings by using a crash test dummy of an "average-size 6-year-old."

But Safe Kids USA said the Insurance Institute’s tests were flawed because "real children are not like crash test dummies."

"Children come in all shapes and sizes — all seats are not going to fit all children," said Kim Martin, coordinator for Safe Kids of Gainesville/Hall County.

Safe Kids says all booster seats on the market meet federal standards and are safe as long as they are installed properly. Parents should buy booster seats that fit their children.

"The key factor is the proper placement of the lap and shoulder belt," Martin said. "You don’t want it on the neck or the abdomen in a crash, or I can guarantee you, there will be injuries."

Booster seats are recommended for children who are shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. Research shows that children in belt-positioning booster seats are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than those who wear a car’s standard seat belt.

Parents are required by law to use child car seats for all children younger than 6.

Martin said recent television network news reports on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s booster seat ratings may have created the wrong impression among parents.

"In the videos, the seat belt was not properly placed," she said. "I’m afraid parents are going to think their booster seats are not safe and move their children into vehicle seats way too early."

While many children outgrow booster seats by age 8, Martin noted that her daughter needed one until she was 10.

The Gainesville Police Department offers free inspections of child car seats to check for proper installation. For more information, call 770-219-8095.