Highback Booster VS Backless Booster: Which is best?
So your child has outgrown the 5 point harness! It’s time to think about booster seats and… well… it’s kind of confusing.
The first thing to remember is that children are only safe in booster seats if they fit properly and if they are mature enough to stay seated 100% of the time; basically, they need to act as though they’re still in a harness. For most children this isn’t usually the case until the child is over 6 years old. I like to tell people if your child can’t stay still at a restaurant, they can’t stay still in a booster. Here’s a good visual of what a good booster belt fit looks like:
So, once you’ve determined that your child is truly ready for a booster and you’re ready to buy one (or switch to one), where do you start?
I always recommend starting with a high back booster, shown above, for a few reasons.
1) The sturdy back of the booster reminds them of a traditional harnessed car seat, so they’re more likely to stay seated. It’s a subtle, quiet reminder of the rules.
2) The shoulder belt guide will help keep the shoulder belt in the correct area of the body (between the curve of the shoulder and the neck.) This makes the belt more comfortable, decreasing the chances that the child will move the shoulder belt behind them.
3) The back of the booster will push the child’s body forward, increasing the likelihood of a good lap belt fit on a petite frame.
Here’s another visual. Notice how this 8 year old is slouching in the backless booster but not in the high back. This is the same seat in both pictures but in the photo on the right the back has been removed. Also note the way the lap belt is across her thighs but not touching her hips at all. That could cause her body to slip under the lap belt in a crash, a phenomenon known as “submarining”.
This is not to say that backless boosters are unsafe. That’s not true at all! Backless boosters are very safe and are a great choice for kids who are a little older – think the 8-12 year range. Most backless boosters on the market will have a shoulder belt guide that’s attached to webbing and holds the belt behind the child’s shoulder. That means if your child is too tall for the back on their booster or it won’t fit in the seating position you need it to fit in, you’ve got another option.
You’re probably wondering about side impact protection at this point, right? I know I was. So here’s the thing about side impact protection (SIP) on car seats: it’s not regulated. We know that SIP is a highly sought after feature on every stage of car seat, from rear-facing only through boosters, but we don’t have a federally regulated standard to apply to them just yet so it’s really difficult to say which is truly helpful and which isn’t. Because of that, at this point it’s only certain to say that a high back booster is safer for kids who fit better in it versus the backless booster.
If you feel more comfortable having your child in a high back booster that’s a perfectly good option, but if your child fits well in the backless (following all the rules stated above) then please feel comfortable making that choice instead.
As always, feel free to message me or any other CPST for clarification or help!
Dana is the lucky mother to two incredible kids (aged 10 & 6) and the happy wife of Nate. She stumbled around in her adult life for a while before finally realizing that she could get paid to pursue her passion: keeping kids safe. In 2013 she started working at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale where she eventually became a Child Passenger Safety Technician with additional Special Needs training. Dana also runs the child passenger safety-focused Facebook page Buckle Up Detroit and works with the amazing lady bosses at Metro Detroit Doula Services offering car seat classes, consultations, and more!