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Are new booster seats without backrests or armrests safe?

Nuevos elevadores sin respaldo ni reposabrazos, ¿son seguros?

15/10/2018

Children's road accident rates have gone down in the last few decades thanks to the large number of approved child restraint solutions on the market. The more these restraint systems are used, the safer children will be when traveling by car. Although this seems obvious, the fact of the matter is that a high percentage of young children travel without any kind of restraint system, or just using the adult seat belt (without being the recommended height yet), or are traveling in an unsuitable or wrongly adjusted CRS.

The United States NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) reveals that only 45% of children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old travel in a child restraint system suitable for their physical characteristics. It is a lower percentage (40%) for children from 6 to 7 years old. The remainder, 54%, travel without a CRS, without a suitable CRS, or only with a seat belt on.

Even in Sweden, where improvements in road safety advance very quickly and society is very aware of its importance, 16% of children from 4 to 5 years old are not using a suitable CRS, while if we look at 8 year old children, the percentage rises to 53%.

When we refer to a private car, it is understood that we are using an approved child restraint system and that when the children start to use a booster seat, this is also suitable for them, (preferably a seat with a backrest and side protection for the head), and that it has a routing guide for ensuring the correct placement of the seat belt in order to protect the child. But what happens when vehicles are being shared for trips (carpooling), when we go on holiday, or if we often take a cab?

Since our own booster seat is too bulky we cannot take it with us every time we use a car that is not our regular form of transport. To provide a solution to this, folding booster seats without backrests, armrests or side protection for the head have been designed. We are referring to devices such as Mifold, a foldable CRS that complies with approval legislation, but which raise some doubts about its safety due to its characteristics. These are boosters without backrests and which barely raise up the child, and therefore, are more concerning.

The reality is that boosters such as Mifold offer a safety level comparable to traditional systems as reflected in the White paper “Heightless, folding booster seats: advanced, compact and portable – but how safe?” which Jon A. Sumroy presented at the Munich Congress. It is a product that has undergone the same safety tests and requirements as traditional booster seats and, furthermore, solves a problem such as the one mentioned above: it makes being able to use a suitable CRS much easier when we are changing car. 

A problem which has always been associated with this type of booster is that of submarining, namely the possibility that the child could slide under the seat belt in a crash. This does not occur with this type of booster (providing they are approved boosters, of course), given that they have a special seat belt router which provides extra securing in the pelvic region.

This routing, specifically designed for booster seats, means that in a crash the pelvic belt strap stays in place and does not move towards the soft stomach tissue, and consequently prevents submarining.

Therefore,a foldable restraint device of this kind is safer than not using anything at all. However, a booster seat with a backrest and headrest will secure the child in the seat and better protect them in a collision. For this reason, the changes in approvals that are taking place are favoring boosters with backrests over those without them. 

In fact, boosters with backrests reduce the risk of head trauma in a side impact by six times compared with a booster seat without a backrest. In addition, they offer better side protection given that during the collision the child remains in their seat at all times and prevents them from directly hitting the side of the car. They usually also have routing guides incorporated in order for the seat belt to be properly positioned and to avoid making mistakes. These are undoubtedly advantages worth taking into consideration. 

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