On December 10th, The House Committee on Oversight and Reform released the findings of an investigation led by the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy which reported that parents have been potentially misled into moving their children out of five-point harness car seats and into booster seats too soon. In February of this year, the Subcommittee began an investigation following concerns from safety experts and parents. They looked at information from leading car seat manufacturers including Artsana (the seller of the Chicco brand), Baby Trend, Britax, Dorel, Evenflo, Graco and KidsEmbrace. In their review, they examined non-public videos and written briefings of side-impact crash tests, written documents about side-impact testing protocols, and internal communication regarding marketing, safety labeling and instructions. Their report states, "The Subcommittee's investigation found that manufacturers of booster seats have endangered the lives of millions of American children and misled consumers about the safety of booster seats by failing to conduct appropriate side-impact testing, deceiving consumers with false and misleading statements and material omissions about their side-impact testing protocols." One of the primary concerns is that it appears that brands have been recommending that children under 40 pounds can safely use booster seats, which is not correct. Further, the Subcommittee calls into question the validity of claiming that seats are "side-impact tested;" the Subcommittee asserts that the testing protocols do no provide that data to support that claim.
The investigation also shines a light on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) who has, according to the Subcommittee, "failed to regulate [booster seats] in any meaningful way." The Subcommittee asserts that the NHTSA has not established an official 40-pound minimum for booster seats, nor has it established a side-impact testing standard, even though Congress has been recommending this for 20 years. "The Subcommittee recommends that NHTSA fulfill its duty to regulate booster seat safety to ensure that manufacturers do not mislead parents or put children at risk in how they design and market their booster seats." The full report can be read here.

Investigation and further recommendations are ongoing. In the meantime here is what you need to know to keep your child safe:

Keep your child in a five-point harness car seat for as long as possible.

This might mean paying more attention to the upper-limits of a car seat rather than the lower-limits. Just because your child could graduate to the next level does not mean that it's safe to do so yet. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants and toddlers use rear-facing, five-point harness car seats for as long as possible until the child reaches the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturers. They note that most car seats can accommodate most children to two-years-old and beyond.

When can my child start using a booster seat?

The Subcommittee wrote, "Booster seats are not as safe as fully-harnessed seats, and placing a child in a booster seat too early greatly increases risk of serious injury or death in a crash." When children outgrow their rear-facing car seat, the AAP recommends that children should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness until the child reaches the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer. In light of the findings of this recent report, children should be at least 40 pounds before moving into a booster seat, if not more. HealthyChildren.org notes that many car seats can accommodate a child until they are 65 pounds. The Car Seat Lady gives even more guidance here. She recommends that children need to meet all of the following criteria before moving to a booster seat:
  • The child is at least 40 pounds
  • The child is at least four years old
  • The child can sit properly for the entire car ride. This means no slouching, moving, wiggling, playing with the seatbelt, etc.
  • The child will be sitting where there is a seat belt and a lap belt, along with the booster seat
Her advice: If your child fits in their five-point harness, let them stay.
When children grow to a weight or height above the forward-facing limit for their car seat, they can use booster seat with a seatbelt-positioner to ensure that the car's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly; this usually happens when children are 4 feet 9 inches tall, which is usually between 8-and-12-years-old. When children outgrow their booster seats, they should use a lap and shoulder belt every single time they are in the car. Children should remain in the back seat until they are at least 13-years-old. In addition to these guidelines, we recommend that you speak frequently with your child's pediatrician to help you determine what's best for your child. Here's the bottom line: Booster seats are not safe for children who weigh less than 40 pounds, even if the label says it is. For additional information on car seat safety, please visit: