Not only is this a commonly asked question but also a very common mistake parents make. The law is written poorly and in a lot of cases, incorrect. So as your handy dandy carseat technician, I thought I would do a blog post about booster seats and when it is appropriate to transition your child out of the booster and into the vehicle seat. First, lets briefly discuss the importance of Booster Seats.
Booster Seats help position the seatbelt appropriately on the child so the lap portion of the belt remains over their lap and hip bones (away from their soft belly containing very important organs) and the shoulder belt rests between their neck and shoulder-providing safety and comfort so they do not put the shoulder belt behind their back. Booster seats are very important because often times the vehicle seat is too large and the child’s body is too small for the safety belt to be positioned correctly to protect them in a crash. PARENTS, please do not rush to retire your child’s booster seat. If you have questions or concerns, please contact me through email! If you live in the area, I would be more than happy to meet up with you and help you!
Now let’s take a look at what the law actually says…
“Children up to their 8th birthday, unless they are 4’9″ tall (which ever comes first), must ride in a child restraint. (For example a child car seat, booster seat, vest, or other restraint that is federally approved for use in the car.)”
To summarize, the law states that children who are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall (whichever comes first) may ride in the vehicle seat without a booster. No wonder this is the most common mistake parents make. The law leaves out a lot of important information and requirements your child must meet before transitioning them out of the booster. In addition to being a minimum of 8 years old or 4ft 9in tall, they must also be able to follow ALL of these six steps to “pass the test” and ride in the vehicle seat without a booster. If they do not meet even one of these requirements, they are not ready to ride in the vehicle seat. Let’s go over these 6 requirements!
1. The child’s back must rest against the vehicle seat
2. Knees naturally bend at the edge of the vehicle seat
3. Feet flat on the floor
4. Lap belt positioned low, on top of thighs and hip bones
5. Shoulder belt between neck and shoulder
6. Child must sit properly without slouching, leaning over, etc
Most children do not meet these requirements until they are 10-12 years old. This is my niece, Jaiden. She is 11 years old and stands at 4ft 11inches tall. She is safe to ride in the car without a booster. Let’s meet my other niece, Mazie.
This is Mazie. She is 8 years old and stands at 4ft 2inches tall. According to the law, Mazie is “ready” to ride in the car without a booster seat. Remember, 8 years old or 4ft 9in tall-whichever comes first. Scroll down to see Mazie buckled in without a booster seat.
Mazie is not ready to ride in the car without a booster. Her petite frame inhibits her from being safely protected in a crash. I joke around with Mazie’s mom by saying “Mazie is going to ride to middle school in a booster”…..but seriously, she probably will! I use this example because we know that children have different growth patterns. Just because a child is 8 years old, does not mean they are ready to graduate from their booster. On the same note, just because a child is 4ft 9in tall does not mean they are safe to ride without a booster either. I asked Mazie how many of her friends ride in Booster seats and she said only a couple. I would bet that the majority of those friends who aren’t riding in Booster seats, should be!
If you are wondering whether your child is ready, put them in the car and see if they can pass these 6 steps. Maybe they can pass all the steps but sometimes on long car rides, they fall asleep and lean against the passenger door (which might contain an airbag) or they lean over on the seat next to them. If this is the case, put them in a high back booster seat for traveling. A high back booster seat will give them head and spinal protection and will keep the seatbelt in the correct placement. See the picture below.
If your child does not meet ALL of these 6 requirements and you need to continue to keep them in their booster, check to see if your booster comes with a 5-point harness. If it does and your child fits the height and weight limit (look in your manual), USE IT! Children are far more safer in a 5 point harness than just a seatbelt. This particular booster seat comes with a 5 point harness that you can use up until 90 lbs, which is fantastic!