Consumer Reports recent review of booster seats reveals that there is a disconnect between the minimum weight requirement on some booster seats, and the real world application of that weight requirement.
In an article from April 10, 2012, Consumer Reports urges parents and caretakers to keep children in booster seats or other car seat restraints for as long as possible. Their research showed that minimum weight limits often didn’t meet up with best practices for booster seat use.
Of the 34 booster seat models they tested, 28 suggest a minimum allowable weight of between 30 and 33 pounds. While this may seem like a reasonable amount, growth charts show that the average 30 pound child is less than three years old, and much closer to two-and-a-half years old. In some cases a child as young as 15 months could meet that minimum weight requirement, if they were in the 95th percentile.
While a child of that size would meet the minimum requirement for weight, at that age few children are mature enough for the freedom of movement a booster seat allows and could easily pose a distraction to the driver. Likewise, developmentally a child under the age of three will be much safer in a five point harness than a booster seat. A seat belt designed for an adult is not going to protect a two-and-a-half year old.
While many of the reviewed booster seats had a low minimum weight requirement, some did have a more reasonable amount of 40 pounds listed. Additionally, some listed minimum age requirements that would keep toddlers out of booster seats and firmly secured in five-point harnesses.
It can be difficult to convince a child that balks at staying in a harnessed car seat that it’s necessary. As kids grow they look forward to those touchstone moments where they can identify themselves as “a big kid.” Many harnessed car seats can accommodate children as heavy as 65 pounds and some can accommodate a child as heavy as 90 pounds. In the event of a car accident, these five-point safety harnesses are the safest option.