There are a lot of topics that accompany this booster seat conversation, the least of which is when to move into a booster, (4 & 40) is NOT a rule. We're not talking about that here (except to say.. boosters are often a demotion in safety, not a graduation from a 5 point harness).
After "When to go into a booster?", the number one question we get from parents about choosing a booster seat is which style is safest – high-back or no back (backless). Both styles have passed mandatory federal safety testing, so they are both safe. The answer to this question depends on your vehicle and your child. Here are the two most important things to consider:
- What kind of head support does your vehicle’s back seat offer? Is there a head rest? Where are your child’s ears in relation to the head rest?
- Your vehicle’s headrest helps with whiplash protection. If your vehicle doesn’t have a head rest, or has one that you are not comfortable with, you will want to purchase a high back booster. Of if you have a tall child and the ears are above the vehicle headrest when sitting in a backless booster, you will want to purchase a highback booster.
- How is your child’s behavior while sitting in the car? Remember that the booster seat only ‘raises’ your child up in the vehicle – crash protection is
Other issues to considers, not all of them safety related:
- If your kid spends a lot of time in the car on long trips, he may sleep better in a high back booster. Additionally, often children remain in a more proper position when sleeping in a high back booster, than in a backless one.
- High back boosters may provide more side-impact protection, but we do not know for sure. Federal safety testing for car seats does not include side impact testing, so we don’t know for sure how different seats fare. Many companies advertise that they have conducted their own side-impact testing; but again, there is no standard for this type of testing. A study conducted by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2005 suggested that high back boosters may offer increased side impact protection However, a later study in 2009, by the same hospital, ) demonstrated no difference between the two styles. Many newer vehicles have side impact protection, so this may be an option for families to consider.
- Where does the shoulder belt rest against your child’s shoulder with your backless booster? If you are having problems with the shoulder belt being too close to your child’s neck and face, often how back boosters allow for better positioning of the shoulder belt.
- How contrary is your child regarding a high-back booster? Backless boosters may be more appealing to older kids and allow them to feel more main-streamed. We all know that it’s tough to be the parent and it is our job to enforce the rules. However, if your child screams and argues with you during each car ride because he doesn’t like his high back booster, this situation is not safe because the driver is too distracted.
The key takeaway for parents:
Using a booster seat is important. Just because your child is now 8 years old, doesn’t mean he will fit into the vehicle properly without a booster. We have seen many 9 and 10 year olds who still need a booster to achieve a safe fit in the vehicle. Repeated research demonstrates that this is the best way to protect your child in a crash. Here are the AAP recommendations (yes, 12) Here is a guide to help you determine proper fit. Lastly, many high back boosters convert into no back boosters. If you're on the fence,buying the convertible type will give you options.