CHOOSING THE SAFEST BOOSTER SEAT
Big kids need boosters! It is not common knowledge that children under 1.5m are not safe travelling with just a seatbelt. Seatbelts are designed to fit adults, and do not fit children safely without a belt-positioning booster. Children between 1m to 1.5m (4-12 years) are best protected by highback boosters, which raise children up and position the seatbelt to get a safe fit across their bodies. Children under 1.5m can sustain severe or fatal injuries in an accident if they are just strapped in without a booster. There are many boosters on the market, and the prices vary considerably. Before purchasing, these are the important factors to consider to ensure that you choose a suitable and functional booster seat that will provide the best protection to your child.
1) What are the weight and height limits of the booster?
Boosters are approved for Group II use from 100cm and 15kg minimum. Your child needs to meet both these minimum criteria in order to get a safe seatbelt fit. Children should ideally be at least 4 years old and be mature enough to sit still and upright in a booster.
There is usually an overlap when your child will still be under the maximum limits of the toddler car seat (18kg/ 105cm) an also meet the minimum criteria to use a booster (15kg/ 100cm). If your child still fits the toddler car seat, do not be in a rush to move to a booster until it is outgrown.
Look for a booster that can be used as a highback booster (with the backrest) all the way until 1.5m/36kg. This is Group III. Some boosters are only approved to be used with the backrest until 25kg, and thereafter they need to be used as backless boosters.
2) HIGHBACK BOOSTER OR BACKLESS BOOSTER?
Although backless boosters are legally allowed to be used on children who are over 125cm and 22kg (approx. 7 years), they offer no side protection or protection to your child’s head. Children are safest using a highback booster all the way until they reach 1.5m.
Watch this video below that demonstrates a crash test comparing a highback booster and a backless booster:
3) ARE THE HEADREST AND SEATBELT GUIDES ADJUSTABLE?
Boosters need to have height adjustable headrests and red/green seatbelt guides, in order to adjust the seatbelt position safely across your child’s body as they grow. There are still many boosters on the market that cannot be adjusted, so it is impossible to fit the seatbelt safely. If the red seatbelt guides are attached to the car seat’s shell, they are not adjustable even if the headrest is.
Also, there are some convertible car seats that can be used as toddler seats and then convert to boosters, that have a slit in the seat to thread one side of the seatbelt through in booster mode. These seats position the seatbelt unevenly and unsafely across your child’s abdomen.
4) DOES IT GET A SAFE SEATBELT FIT?
In order for a child to be protected in a crash, the booster needs to position the seatbelt safely across the torso away from the neck and abdomen.
Ears should be below the top of the headrest
Seatbelt in the guide and positioned just above the shoulder (not cutting in the neck) and even across the torso.
Both portions of seatbelt UNDER the armrest on side closest to buckle
Lap belt should be low and flat across the hips, touching the tops of the thigh NOT over the abdomen
5) HAS IT PASSED THE REQUIRED REGULATIONS?
All boosters sold legally in South Africa need to pass the required ECE regulation R44/04 or the newest R129/03. There will be an orange sticker on the booster with the certification number on it. You should also check that it has been homologated by NRCS to ensure it is not a fake or illegal booster, especially if you are buying online or second hand.
6) HAS IT BEEN INDEPENDENTLY CRASH TESTED?
The results of the ECE crash testing are not published. So we have no way of knowing how well the boosters performed during the crash test. In Europe, there are independent crash testing institutes that perform additional crash testing at higher speeds and they have more stringent criteria. These results are published in German and made available to the public. We have translated the results and published them in English to our support page, Car Seat Support South Africa. You can find all the available ADAC results here : https://www.facebook.com/groups/127391007668194/media/albums
7) DOES IT RECLINE?
Some boosters offer a slight recline, to displace your child’s head back to prevent their heads from flopping forwards while they nap. It is dangerous if a child falls forward in a booster, as their body would be out of the protection zones of the booster if they were involved in an accident at the time. Falling forwards could also result in them leaning on the door, which is not safe.
If your booster does not recline, you can teach your child to look up at the roof of the car when they feel sleepy.
8) DOES IT HAVE ISOFIX?
If your car has isofix, it is useful to get a booster with isofix. This attaches the booster to your vehicle chassis. Non-isofix boosters are not attached to the car, but the seatbelt restrains the child and the booster. An unoccupied booster can become a projectile in a crash, so it is recommended that you buckle a non-isofix booster in when your child is not using it. A booster that has isofix can still be used in a car that does not have isofix.
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