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Status Report, Vol. 46, No. 9 | October 13, 2011 Subscribe

Inflatable booster earns top rating

The BubbleBum, the first inflatable seat tested by the Institute and a BEST BET, solves a dilemma familiar to anyone who has ever traveled with a booster-age child or has had to accommodate an extra young passenger at the last minute.

Grainne Kelly, a mother of two from Northern Ireland, created the seat in frustration. After discovering that car rental companies couldn't be relied on to provide booster seats when requested, she began lugging heavy, bulky boosters every time the family flew to England to visit her mother-in-law. Kelly ran a travel agency at the time, and when she checked with her clients, she found they were putting up with the same inconvenience.

She quickly educated herself about child passenger safety, European Union child seat standards, and crash testing, and found a factory in China to produce her seat. Within nine months, the BubbleBum booster was for sale in the United Kingdom.

Kelly then moved her family to the United States for nearly a year so she could study the American market. After gaining approval under U.S. regulations, the BubbleBum went on sale here in June.

"I have no engineering background," says Kelly, now back in the U.K. "I am a mommy. Mommies get things done."

The BubbleBum seat has no arm rests, and guides on its sides help to keep the lap belt positioned correctly. That's a key difference from most boosters, so parents and caregivers must be sure to use the belt guides for proper fit.

Kelly says the lack of armrests helps keep the seat small enough to easily fit three in a row in an average-size vehicle — a difficult task with most boosters.

Although the company says the BubbleBum is unlikely to deflate, EU regulations require that the seat be certified as meeting booster standards in its deflated state in case it gets punctured in a crash. Through the use of memory foam, the seat holds much of its shape even after the air is let out. However, the BubbleBum doesn't meet the Institute's BEST BET criteria without air in it and is designated "check fit" when it is deflated.

2011 booster seat ratings

More boosters are providing good belt fit for children, the latest ratings show. IIHS has awarded a record 31 seats the BEST BET designation this year.

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