Let’s Talk About That Evenflo Booster Seat Article

If you follow the news very closely you might have seen an article come out about Evenflo and their Big Kid Booster seats. If you just read the Cliff Notes or get your information second-hand from friends, family members and/ or co-workers you might have some misconceptions about Evenflo, their Big Kid Booster Seat and booster seats in general. In this post, we’re going to talk about a few different narratives that we in the car seat world have heard over the last few weeks, and then we’re going to unpack them to help you understand exactly what happened, what Evenflo’s and their Big Kid Booster seat’s part was and a little more about what booster seats do in general.

To start here’s a LINK to the article we referenced above. It’s a really well-written article detailing an absolutely horrible situation. If you have time you really should read the article, as we said, it’s very well written and the videos are very important to see. If you don’t have time we’ll summarize briefly. Evenflo used to sell booster seats that had a lower weight limit of 30 pounds when used with the back. They also advertised these seats as “Side Impact Tested” when they were sold. Behind the scenes, an Evenflo engineer recommended to the higher-ups that Evenflo should raise the lower weight limit of their booster seat to 40 pounds, several times. He was rebuffed each time and told that it would hurt sales and it wasn’t even going to be considered.

Now we come to the terrible part. A family in New York bought a Big Kid Booster for their then 3-year-old daughter, Jillian. Two years later Jillian, then 37 pounds, and her mother was hit from the side by another car while making a turn in an intersection. Jillian suffered an internal decapitation as a result of the accident, and yes, it’s as bad as it sounds. Jillian now requires around the clock care, and will for the rest of her life. It’s an absolutely horrible story, this family’s life completely shattered.

Now let’s look at some of the things that we’ve been hearing about this article, Evenflo as a company and hopefully learn from this terrible tragedy.

Evenflo Big Kid Boosters are unsafe.

As this statement is worded, it’s not true. A more accurate statement would be; Evenflo Big Kid Boosters are unsafe if not used properly. Evenflo Big Kid Boosters are good booster seats, we work with them all the time. A booster seat becomes unsafe is when a child is put into it too early, something as CPSTs that makes us cringe. We are not fans of the 30-pound weight limit that used to be listed on Evenflo’s high back booster seats, we believe they have recently changed their high-back booster seat weight limits to 40 pounds, but it’s not just and Evenflo problem, it’s an industry thing. 3o pounds used to be the standard lower weight limit for boosters seats, and as of the writing of the article on ProPublica, 6 companies were still selling booster seats with 30-pound minimum weight limits. So while Evenflo did market booster seats with minimum weights of 30 pounds, many other companies did, and still do, as well. We’re not excusing this decision on Evenflo’s part, but we want you to understand that they weren’t alone in doing this. So, an Evenflo Big Kid Booster is a perfectly safe option if used PROPERLY with an appropriately sized child.

What do you mean “used properly with an appropriately sized child?”

So we essentially have four stages of car-seat-ness for children. The first stage is rear-facing, second, forward-facing with a harness, third, booster seat, and finally, number 4, just under a seatbelt. Each step up is a step, is a step down in safety. Now, we’re not saying that forward-facing is unsafe, it’s just less safe that rear-facing. We as CPSTs, in line with recommendations from the NHTSA and AAP try to keep children in each stage as long as possible before they move up to the next stage. Most seats that allow you to rear-face your child have 30-40 pound rear-facing limits and we advise parents to keep children rear-facing as long as they can. Forward-facing seats with a 5-point harness generally have the ability to harness children from 50-65 pounds, and again, we want to get kids as close to the upper weight, or height limit, as possible. If a child Jillian’s age and size had come to see us for a car seat check in a booster we would have recommended Jillian go back to a harness seat, weighing only 37 pounds, that child could benefit from the harness for another 28 pounds. We as CPSTs are guided by best practice, so we always recommend the absolutely safest way to transport a child, we do also live in the real world and realize that we need to empower families to make their own decisions. Sometimes what a family decides is at odds with best practice, but as long as their decision’s not patently unsafe, we help them and make sure their kids are as safe as possible. We won’t help people when they make a decision that is terribly unsafe for their child. After reading this article, and with so many safer options out there, our team has decided to no longer support decisions by parents to booster children under 40 pounds. Don’t misunderstand us, we won’t shame you or make you feel bad, it’s just not a behavior that we feel we are able to support any more. So, long story short, we would love to see all children hit 50, heck even 60 pounds before they hit booster seats. We are realists, however, and realize that not every one solution works for every family.

Evenflo said the Bid Kid Booster was “side-impact” tested, but it was just a lie.

Evenflo didn’t lie when they said their Big Kid Booster was side-impact tested, you can watch the videos right on the original articles page. The problem is that currently there is no defined testing standard for side-impact tests in the US. Apparently they’ve been in the works for about 20 years now and it doesn’t look like there will be a standard anytime soon. The only crash test that a car seat has to pass is the frontal crash test as laid out in FMVSS 213. So when Evenflo says their seats are “side-impact” tested that is true, there’s just not objective standard to define what a pass or fail is. This isn’t just Evenflo, any car seat manufacturer that advertises “side-impact” testing is doing the same thing Evenflo did, making up their own test with their own objective standards. In this case Evenflo’s definition of a passed was very broad, which isn’t great. However, we have no idea what constitutes a passed test for any of the other companies on the market either. The bottom line is when any car seat manufacture says their car seats are “side-impact” tested, take it with a grain of salt and do some research on what exactly that means.

Evenflo should have increased the lower weight limit when the engineer brought it to their attention.

We totally agree on this one. However, we don’t live in a vacuum so it’s not always as easy as “just doing it.” If Evenflo had increased their booster seat lower weight limit they would have put themselves at a significant disadvantage in the booster seat market, as five or six other companies were currently selling booster seats with lower weight limits of 30 pounds. This could have impacted Evenflo’s booster sales, and while it would be great to live in a world where altruism and what’s morally right are the rule, we’re not there yet. So while Evenflo did put profits over safety, that’s simply part and parcel of doing business today as most companies follow this model, most other car seat manufacturers do, hence the 30-pound weight limit on their boosters. We have noticed most car seat manufactures have been increasing the lower weight limit on their booster seats to 40 pounds, so maybe some good will come out of this horrible situation.

A similar child in a 5-point harness in a similar wreck would have fared much better.

While we hope so there’s a lot going on in this wreck, so we can’t really say with certainty. This was a really bad wreck the way it’s described in the article. Side impact collisions can be tricky animals as most of the equipment to keep us safe in cars are optimized to work the best in a frontal impact, as this makes sense as 44% of car crashes, almost half, are frontal impacts. What we do know is when you watch the videos of the booster test vs the 5-point harness test it’s crystal clear which child would fare better. When you watch the videos you can see the dummy come out of the shoulder belt violently, and with nothing to restrain the dummie’s lateral movement it folds over and performs all sorts of unnatural movements, this doesn’t happen in the 5-point harness test. As we like to tell kids who are reticent to go back to harness from a booster seat, “It’s a race car seat! Racecar drivers wear 5-point harnesses!” They wear THICK 5-point harnesses for a reason. Something else to consider is that a seat with a 5-point harness that is installed improperly can be deadly. Over the course of our car seats check we generally see about a 90% misuse rate. This means that for every 10 seats that our team checks 9 of those have some form of installation or harnessing error. Some minor, some could be catastrophic. So while we can’t unequivocally say a similar child would be safer in a 5-point harness, everything we see in the video and that we know about crash dynamics tells us they would have a much better chance of escaping without serious injuries in that type of crash, and after watching those videos I know how I’d want my child restrained.

Let’s talk about what a booster actually does,

A booster seat is essentially a phone book. Ok, it’s not actually that simple, but in the grand scheme of things a booster seat does nothing in a crash except position the child appropriately so they can get the most advantage out of the seat belt system. While other types of car seats do transfer crash forces away from your child in the event of a wreck, a booster seat does none of that. It is simply there to position the child, and that’s it. As long as we can achieve proper belt fit we don’t care if you have a $30 Graco or Evenflo booster or a $150 Clek booster, they’re going to function the same way and provide the same benefit to your child. So, as we said above, it’s pretty much a phonebook. Now let’s talk about why boosters are important tools when used with an appropriately sized child. Seatbelt systems just aren’t built to accommodate children. While advances in seat belt systems over the last few years have helped make them fit a wider range of the population, it’s just really hard to make anything that can fit everybody, seatbelt or not, and kids’ bodies are just different than adult bodies. This is where booster seats come in, by raising the child up we are able to reposition the lap belt off of their soft tummies and down onto their hips, and the shoulder belts off their necks and into the correct position, midway between shoulder and neck. So if you’re a parent who thinks the magical booster seat is going to save your child in the event of a crash, sorry, all it’s going to do it let the seatbelt system do its job effectively. Don’t get us wrong, they are a very important tool, but one we as CPSTs would like used only when your child has outgrown their harness.

This whole story is terrible and our hearts ache for Jillian and her family whose lives are forever changed because of this horrible tragedy. It’s stories like this that push us to continue doing what we do here at Safe Start, make as many children in our area as safe as possible. Just yesterday our team did a car seat check for a wonderful family who had an amazing five-year-old boy that weighed 41 pounds and was riding in a booster. After discussing with his mom about what would be safest for him, he left in a snazzy new 5-point harness seat. He thought it was really cool that he had a new race car seat! Are you confident in how your kids are riding? If you like to schedule a check with our team click HERE. It’s free and fun.