Monday, August 23, 2010

CAR POOL TIPS - What is the NARROWEST BOOSTER available?

Nania High Ride
Are you driving carpool this year and wondering how you are going to fit 3 boosters across the back of your minivan?  Trying to fit multiple car seats & boosters can be a challenge - even in a big vehicle like a minivan.  Wondering which booster is the narrowest?

Harmony Juvenile Cruz
The Nania High Ride (backless booster) is the narrowest booster seat currently available - at just 14.5 inches wide.  The Harmony Juvenile Cruz is the next narrowest - at just 15.5 inches wide.  Both are available for less than $25 each.  The Bubble Bum, which will be out in April 2011, is the narrowest of all at just 12.5 inches - and also has no arm rests (which are the parts that tend to interfere most with placing a booster next to another car seat or booster).

Bubble Bum
Before you rush to buy a booster for carpool...
Kids, especially younger ones, are safer in a 5-point harness.  Don’t rush to “graduate” your child to a booster seat.   Kids who are AT LEAST 40 pounds AND AT LEAST 3-4 years old can start riding on boosters.  Kids should ride on a booster UNTIL they can pass the 5-step-test (usually age 8-10).

If you can check "Yes" to all the statements below, your child is okay to use a booster:

YES       NO
  [ ]          [ ]       There is a shoulder AND lap belt where the child sits (boosters need shoulder belts)
  [ ]          [ ]       The child is at least 40 pounds (kids under 40 pounds are safer in a 5-point harness)
  [ ]          [ ]       The child is at least 3-4 years old
  [ ]          [ ]       The child can sit still the entire trip without leaning forward or sitting on their knees

Do you need something EVEN NARROWER?
The Ride Safer Travel Vest is a great option as it is only as wide as the child's body (see below for more info).

Does a child need to ride in a position with just a lap belt?
One option would be to use a 5-point harness car seat with a high-weight-harness (a harness that accommodates kids who weigh more than 40 pounds).  A list of such car seats can be found here thanks to our fantastic friends at Safety Belt Safe USA.
Ride Safer Travel Vest using tether + lap belt
Ride Safer Travel Vest in center showing tether
Another option is the Ride Safer Travel Vest - which is a vest that functions like a booster by positioning the vehicle's seat belt properly on the child's body.  The Ride Safer Travel Vest can be used with just a lap belt so long as there is a tether anchor available.  For vehicles 2000 and newer, there are tether anchors in at least 3 seating locations in the vehicle - most older vehicles (as old as 1989) can have tether anchors retrofitted for free or at minimal cost.  The vest was redesigned about a year ago; please make sure to get the newer version. You can distinguish the new from the old as the old one was only available in silver and had 2 buckles in front whereas the new one is available in a rainbow variety of colors, but not silver, and the new one has only one buckle in front.

  • The boosters shown above are BACKLESS boosters.  In order to use a backless booster, or the Ride Safer Travel Vest, you need to make sure that the vehicle seat back comes up to at least the top of the child's ears in order to provide adequate head support.  If the vehicle seat back does NOT come up to at least the top of the ears, then you need to use a high back booster.  
  • For wiggly, squirmy kids it is often helpful to "lock" the seat belt - click here for tips on how to "lock" the belt
  • The Bubble Bum will be available in April 2011 - it meets all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and crash testing like all other boosters.
  • The Nania High Ride (which meets all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards like all other car seats and boosters sold in the US) is not sold in any retail stores.  It is available individually for $20 from the University of Iowa Children's Hospital Online Safety Store.  Otherwise it is sold in packs of 6-8 boosters (total cost comes to less than $20 per booster) and is available from the following websites:
For approximate dimensions of other boosters and car seats, click here


  1. I have found that Graco boosters are very narrow, and if you can find a booster that sits higher off the seat, like a convertible car seat does, it makes buckling much easier. The lower boosters go on each side, and the higher one in the middle, this creates a space to slide your hand in for easier buckling. If all three boosters are at the same elevation it makes getting your hands between the seats for buckling much harder!

  2. Allergy mama - the graco boosters are 2 inches wider than the nania high ride at 16.5 inches. I do find that putting a high sitting car seat in the center, like a Britax marathon, as opposed to a low sitting car seat with a wide base can make it easier to get your hands in to buckle the boosters. However, many parents need to fit three boosters in the back of minivans where the width and also the spacing of the seat belt buckles do not allow for the width of even a graco booster.

  3. I find the new Literider boosters very narrow, and fun colored too! Wal-Mart generally has them for about $15 I think.

  4. Jennifer - The LiteRider is also 2 inches wider than the Nania High Ride.

  5. We put the Britax Marathon in the middle for our rear-facing, then a booster on either side, then to buckle the booster, the child sits in the booster and I tilt them out toward me, reach around and buckle, then tighten it as I set them back down.

    We have an older model Honda CRV, and it's the only way we can seat three kids. Technically, the boosters are less than a cm wider than the space they have though, but the kids are secure and it's much better than having to move one to the front seat when we have to go somewhere.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this information! We have been dealing with this dilemma for over three vehicles, in almost the same number of years. We have 5 children ranging from 25-44 lbs. The three eldest are independent and old enough to use a booster (our kids are tall and thin). Our solution was to keep getting bigger and bigger vehicles. We're now into a full-size van, with a 3-D puzzle solution using a combination of 5-pt harness carseats. At some point, the kids will just want to use the seat-belt (our eldest is turning 7 in a week, but weighs less than our 5 year old who is also taller). These options are great and I'm thrilled to find your site and see some new solutions to this ongoing issue.
    Now maybe, I can downsize to a standard mini-van again soon....