Booster seats in a car are frequently a simple solution for parents as children grow taller and older. The appeal of such cushion-type seat bases is easy to see: they’re affordable (as little as £10), compact, light and portable. They are also easy to fit to any car as they are secured by a seat belt, rather than Isofix mounts. But Britax, a leading manufacturer of in-car child seats, says that the cheaper booster-type seats are dangerous.
The company simulated a car crash at its research centre using crash test dummies. This compared the protection offered by a simple cushion-type booster to a high-backed booster seat, both suitable for children aged between four and 12 years of age. The test showed that the ‘child’ on the simple booster could slip out of their seat belt and hit their head on the car door.
By contrast, the child in the high-back seat is better restrained, because the seat is fitted with a retaining eye for the seatbelt’s shoulder strap. This ensures that as the child gets taller with age, the correct height of the seat belt can be maintained.
The warning should be a serious concern for parents letting their child use a basic booster. And it comes as parents cope with children being on holiday from school by relying on play dates, grandparents or summer clubs to keep children occupied. At the same time, the booster seat is a simple and convenient way for kids to travel legally in different vehicles.
Using a pair of crash test dummies to represent children aged six, the crash test was carried out in Britax’s research centre at Andover in Hampshire. It simulated a collision at 42mph.
Mark Bennett, a safety expert at Britax, said: “The test demonstrates the importance of deep protective side wings, head support and seat belt guides.” The company added that although simple booster cushions are legal, it only makes and recommends high-back booster seats.
The law says child car seats must be used until a child is 12 years-old or 135cm (4ft 5in) tall, whichever comes first. Seats can be used according to height, known as “i-Size” seats, and should be rear-facing until the child reaches 15 months old. Alternatively they may be based on a child’s weight, and divided into three groups: 9kg to 18kg, or approximately nine months to four years-old; 15kg to 25kg, or roughly three to seven years; 22-36kg, from about six to 12 years of age. The seats compared in the Britax test were from the 22-36kg class of weight-based car seats.
If you’re looking for a good source of information on choosing the appropriate in-car child seat, try Which?. It publishes buying advice and reviews for seats in a wide range of age groups.