When your child outgrows the forward-facing car seats that have a five-point harness system, he will need to sit in a booster seat in the back seat. A booster car seat has a three-point belt system to keep your child restrained and is the best way to keep your child safe until he is big enough to fit a vehicle’s seat belt. Booster seats must be used with both a lap and shoulder belt. Booster car seats boost your child high enough for your vehicle’s lap and shoulder belts to restrain your child safety.
Since seat belts are designed to fit adult bodies and do not hold children securely, using a booster car seat will reduce their chance of a crash-related injury by 45 percent. If there is a vehicle crash and your child is not using a booster seat, an adult seat belt can actually cause injury rather than prevent it. For example, if the lap belt lies on your child’s tummy, which is likely to happen without a booster, he could suffer stomach, spleen, or liver damage in the crash.
When is your child ready for a booster seat?
It’s important not to rush to move your child to a booster seat before he or she is ready. Each time you move your child to the next seat, there is a reduction in the level of protection for your child. Keep your child in each stage for as long as possible.
Your child is ready for a booster seat when he has outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing harness car seat, which is generally between 40 and 65 pounds. Each car seat has its own height and weight limits so it is important to read the manufacturer’s manual for your specific limits. To test that your child is ready to use a booster seat, have him sit in the booster seat and ensure that he is all the way against the back of the seat, with his knees bending at the edge of the seat cushion. If he is too small for the booster seat, his legs will stick straight out and he may be slouching, both of which can be dangerous.
If your child has outgrown the forward-facing car seat but is not ready to stay seated properly in a booster seat using the lap and shoulder belt, consider using a combination car seat, also known as a toddler booster car seat. Combination car seats have a five-point harness that can later be removed and used as a belt-positioning booster car seat. This will provide the best protection for your child, as you will want him to use the harness for as long as possible. Most children can continue using the harness until they weigh at least 40 pounds.
Types of booster car seats
There are two kinds of belt-positioning booster car seats: booster seat with high back and backless booster seat. Deciding which booster car seat to use depends mainly on the type of seats your car has. A high-back booster provides neck and head support and may be used in vehicles with or without head restraints present. Popular high-back booster seats include the Evenflo Amp High Back Booster Car Seat and Graco Highback Turbobooster Car Seat.
A backless belt-positioning booster does not provide head and neck support and is good to use in vehicles which have a head restraint present for your child. Popular backless boosters include Graco Backless TurboBooster Car Seat and Clek Olli Backless Booster Seat.
Installing booster car seats
Some new booster car seats have LATCH connectors to help you position the booster, but LATCH is not required for booster seats since all you need is the car’s lap and shoulder belts to safely secure your child. However, if you are using a combination car seat and your vehicle is compatible with the LATCH system, then you can install your seat using LATCH connectors. Read your car seat’s instruction manual to determine how to connect the attachments from your car seat to the anchors in your car.
The safest place for most car seats is in the center of the back seat, so that your child is best protected from a side-impact crash. However, many vehicles only have a lap belt and do not have a shoulder belt in the center back. Since you should never anchor a booster seat using a lap belt by itself, you can position the booster seat on either side of your backseat. Keep in mind that you should never let any child ride in the front seat of a vehicle, especially if you have an air bag in the passenger side. Although air bags may be lifesavers for adults, they can cause serious head and neck injuries to children when they inflate.
When your child is in the booster seat, make sure the lap belt crosses his hips, not his belly, and touches the top of his thighs. Ensure that the shoulder belt lands on his shoulders, not his neck or upper arm, and crosses the center of his chest. The shoulder belt should never be placed under your child’s arm or behind his back.
Some booster car seats may come with belt-positioning clips, either on the sides of a high-back booster or attached to a special strap on a backless model. These clips make sure the shoulder belt crosses your child’s torso properly. If your car’s shoulder belt actually lands on your child’s shoulder, as opposed to his neck or upper arm, and crosses the center of his chest, then you do not need to use these clips.
When is your child ready to use a seat belt?
Seat belts are designed for 165-pound male adults, thus children who do not fit these adult belts properly are at risk of injury. Your child is only ready to use a regular seat beat when he can keep his back against the vehicle seat with his knees naturally bend over the edge of the car seat, and his feet flat on the floor of the car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that all should continue riding in a booster seat until:
- They’re at least 8 years old AND 4 feet 9 inches tall and
- They have outgrown the manufacturer’s height and weight recommendations for their booster seat