I run into booster seat confusion on a daily basis. "Does my child need a booster?" "When can they ride without one?" Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusing information available and parents aren't sure who needs to be in a booster seat, what function it serves, and why it is so important. The bottom line is that booster seats, when used appropriately, help tremendously in keeping children safe.
It's hard to argue with research that shows using a belt positioning booster lowers the risk of injury in crashes by almost 60% compared to a seat belt alone. Below are some common scenarios which will hopefully reduce the confusion...
Myth Number One
Myth: My child just turned 8 years old and I told him it was okay to not use a booster anymore. He is around 4 feet 3 inches.
Fact: Although this child is 8 years old, he is not tall enough to be out of a booster. A child needs to remain in a booster seat until a seat belt fits properly without the assistance of a booster, which is around 4 feet 9 inches. The purpose of a booster is to help position/raise a child so that the seat belt fits appropriately. If a backless booster comes with a separate shoulder belt positioning strap, use it to help with the proper adjustment of the shoulder belt. High back boosters have a factory installed positioning guide built onto the side of the booster to adjust up or down based on your child's height. Be sure to use it for proper fit.
To determine whether your child is big enough to no longer use a booster, be sure you have him/her take The Safety Belt Fit Test . If he/she doesn't pass all the steps, it's not a big deal. Just be sure they continue using a booster with the seat belt, and retest in a couple months.
Myth Number Two
Myth: Boosters are not necessary for traveling short distances.
Fact: If a child meets the requirements to use a booster, then he/she needs to be in a booster at all times while driving in a car, even if you're going around the corner to drop your child off at school or a friend's house, or to pick up groceries at the local store.
Myth Number Three
Myth: Sometimes when I'm driving a lot of kids around (for example carpooling to a birthday party), I don't have enough boosters for everyone. Since this only happens occasionally I don't see it as a problem.
Fact: If a child needs a booster at any time, then he/she needs a booster ALL the time. If you don't have enough boosters, never hesitate to borrow one from the families you are carpooling with. In fact, if all the children in the carpool cannot be properly restrained, then they shouldn't be in the car.
Myth Number Four
Myth: I have a 4 year old son and he weighs 33 lbs. I recently switched him to a booster because he is now 4. He still fits into his forward facing 5 point harness car seat, but I switched him anyway.
Fact: In this case, the child is 33 pounds and has not outgrown his harness in the car seat even though he is 4 years old. He can and should continue using his existing 5 point harness car seat until it is outgrown. His harness may cover him until he weighs 40, 60 or even 80 pounds, depending upon the limits for his specific car seat. Parents should always check their child's harnessed car seat to learn what the upper limits are for that particular seat. Do not rush to remove a child from the harnessed car seat into the booster seat just because he turns 4. The harness and car seat shell afford a child much more protection as long as it is not outgrown.
Signs that a child has outgrown his forward facing harness car seat include: Surpassing the height or weight requirement for the seat, the ears have reached the top of the seat, and/or the child's shoulders are above the top harness slots. When a parent notices any of these things, it is necessary to obtain a new, properly fitting seat.
Myth Number Five
Myth: My daughter is 10 years old and some of her friends are still in boosters, and others are not. I'm overwhelmed by this entire car seat situation and there is no one formally trained to take a quick look at how she fits in the booster and help me figure out what is best for her safety.
Fact: You're in luck. There are over 34,000 certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians throughout the country who can help. These qualified individuals can assess your individual situation – whether you have an infant or an older child – and help guide you. It's always best to bring your child and the car seat/booster when you see the technician to evaluate the fit and decide what steps to take. Remember to also bring your car seat instruction book and the vehicle owner's manual to the inspection.
Get Your Seat Checked
For more information about upcoming events check out: Find a Safety Seat Check-up Event Bear You
Please take the time to learn as much as you can about booster seat safety. And lastly, don't forget that all children under 13 yrs. old should always be properly restrained in a BACK seat.