Do backless booster seats offer your child enough protection? Now that regulations may be tightening following concerns about side impact safety, we reveal what you need to know
The rules about car seats changed dramatically in 2006, when new legislation meant all children up to 12 years old (or until they reached a height of 135cm) had to use an ‘appropriate’ car seat.
Now, there are moves afoot to tighten the regulations again. One of the effects would be to phase out the use of backless booster seats - the cheap, portable option that you can currently legally choose for children when they weigh over 40lbs (2st 11 oz), as long as it conforms to the United Nations standard, ECE Regulation 44.04.
The backless booster seat works by raising your child so that an adult seatbelt fits across his pelvis and ribcage. In the case of an accident, the seatbelt spreads the force of an impact over the strongest parts of your child’s skeleton. It’s therefore vital when using a backless booster to make sure the seatbelt is properly adjusted.
A recent Which? report questioned the safety of these backless booster seats. The consumer group and other safety experts are concerned that the current legislation does not go far enough to protect children, particularly during a side-impact crash. Indeed, according to recent research up to 25% of car crashes involve a side-on collision.
Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, explains why the consumer group are focusing on in-car safety. “Every year in the UK, around 30 children under 12 years old are killed while travelling in cars, and a further 300 are seriously injured.”
The backless booster seat has been the preferred option for many parents since the 2006 laws came into force. There’s no disputing the fact that backless boosters are a cheaper option, are extremely portable and feel more ‘grown up’ to an older child than a full height seat. They are also a great option for granny’s car and occasional lifts home for friends.
Without a doubt, using a backless booster is much better than not using a car seat at all. As Edmund King, the AA's president states, “...occasionally it may not be convenient to use a high-back booster, in which case a child is better off on a simple booster cushion than just using the adult belts.”
Certainly, a large number of well-reputed car seat manufacturers are still selling backless booster seats in addition to high-backed boosters that can be adapted to a cushion-only version once your child is older. These companies are known for high safety standards and product testing. You only need to take a quick glance at the popular high street retailers to find backless booster products from Graco, Mothercare, MyChild, and Commuter.
A spokesperson from Mothercare explains the store's approach. “Here at Mothercare we know that customers have differing needs from their car seats. Some will be used in the main vehicle every day while others will be for occasional use, on holiday or in another family member’s car. To address these wide-ranging needs, we offer an extensive choice of car seats. All car seats sold at Mothercare conform to strict European Safety Regulations and we offer a free Safe Fit service where trained experts show customers how to fit the car seat safely.”
You can be sure that these booster seats meet all the current legislation by checking they conform to ECE R44.04 - it will be on the packaging.
David Evans, Which? Car Seat Expert, knows that many parents choose backless boosters for practical and cost reasons. However, he believes they just don’t give enough side protection. “We predict that in early 2012, there will be a new European standard for child car seats which will include a side-impact element. Our goal is to work with manufacturers now to come up with alternative and innovative car seat solutions that meet both the consumers’ demands and the likely new safety requirements.
"We don’t want to scare parents about their current choice of backless booster, but we do want to help them make an informed choice and encourage them to demand seats with side protection from the manufacturers and retailers.”
One of the UK’s major car seat manufacturers, Britax, has already phased out its own popular version of the backless booster. Matthew Turner, UK Marketing Manager at Britax explains, “At Britax we are all about optimal safety for children and because of this we just could not ignore the reports that up to 25% of car accidents involve side impact collisions. As a result of this research, we have decided to stop shipping our Britax backless booster model, the Horizon, from July 2010. Although the backless booster cushion is better than nothing, we strongly believe that children from 4-12 still need significant side and head protection in their car seats."
It’s not time to panic, say the experts, but it is time to think about all the facts. And if your child does have a backless booster, it’s crucial that you make sure both the seat and seat belt are properly fitted each time you drive.
Advantages of high-backed boosters
Disadvantages of high-backed boosters
There’s no question that as parents we want to protect our little ones as best as possible in the car. But perhaps we have been lulled into a false sense of security that backless boosters should be the default option for older children. Whilst providing a convenient and cost-effective option which is clearly better than no seat at all, it’s time to think about whether your child’s seat is giving him enough protection in all situations.
Britax offer a full range of child car seats to keep your child safe from birth right up to the legal limit of 12 years or 1.35m. Britax also have a new stylish range of pushchairs to suit all lifestyles, including an inline tandem, the B-DUAL. To find a Britax retailer near you click here.
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