Booster seats under fire

Is your child’s car seat installed correctly? Is your kid big enough to be using the type of seat he’s in right now? How much protection can child seats really provide in a serious crash?

These are questions you might be asking yourself if you read the article last month about child booster seats by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that specializes in investigative journalism.

The Feb. 6 story headline read: “Evenflo, Maker of the ‘Big Kid’ Booster Seat, Put Profits Over Child Safety: Internal video of side-impact tests shows that children could be injured or killed. But the company continued to market them as ‘side-impact tested.’”

It’s a 7,800-word expose filled with images, videos and stories of children’s lives tragically lost or altered because of car accidents that involved booster seats. 

It’s a tough read, but one of the main points is this: Some booster seats sold in the U.S. say they’re safe for children as light as 30 pounds. But that weight minimum just isn’t safe, especially when side-impact accidents are involved: “In Canada, the government does not allow the sale of boosters to children under 40 pounds. That’s been the case since 1987.”

Experts in the article and in Minnesota advise using caution when making car seat decisions:

Be patient: Don’t ever move your child to the next phase of car seat prematurely: In the article, Dr. Ben Hoffman — an Oregon pediatrician and a lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on car seats — said what Minnesota experts have been saying for years: “Parents often see switching from harnessed seats to boosters as an exciting milestone, but in fact, that transition reduces the protection a child would receive in a crash.”

See an easy-to-decipher brochure about how to transition children through each car seat stage — or go to buckleupkids.mn.gov

Harness safety: Carefully consider your child’s weight when buying a booster seat, and remember that a five-point harness seat, when installed correctly, offers a higher standard of safety: “A tightly adjusted five-point harness secures shoulders and hips, and goes between the legs.” The authors of the article added: “There’s a reason NASCAR drivers wear harnesses.”

Be wary. Promises made by manufacturers about boosters can be exaggerated: According to the ProPublica article, companies can make up their own side-impact tests and decide what passes, due to loopholes in federal regulations.

Get inspected. In the U.S., more than half of car seats are installed incorrectly due to common mistakes, such as too-loose installation, anchoring or tethering errors or harness straps being too high or too low. Trained staff throughout the state can check your car seat installation and make any necessary changes. Look up your county’s locations and make an appointment at tinyurl.com/get-checked-mn. 

Shop smart: See the AAP’s consumer site and a breakdown of all types of seats.

Drive undistracted: Remember: No car seat can take the place of safe, defensive, undistracted driving. 

The main defense of the companies in the article was that the accidents detailed in the story may have been too extreme: “No child restraint or booster seat can ensure that a child will not be injured in a car crash, especially a severe one; just like no vehicle manufacturer can ensure that all occupants will escape injury in every crash.” 

Find the ProPublica article at the ProPublica article and read the most common car seat mistakes.