When your child is beginning to grow out of his car seat, it’s time to consider graduating him to a booster seat. There are several indicators that the time has arrived to make the transition, but it’s important that you don’t rush the process simply because you’re eager to get him out of a car seat. Until he’s reached the proper size and weight, your child is far safer in a five-point harness than he is in a booster seat with the shoulder and lap belt.
What is a Booster Seat?
A booster seat is a graduation from a traditional car seat and is used to keep the lap and shoulder belts of your car’s seatbelt positioned across your child’s body properly. Using a booster seat raises your child up, ensuring that the seatbelt in your vehicle not only fits better for increased comfort, but also increases the level of safety those belts provide in the event of an accident. According to a study conducted by the Department of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, children between the ages of four and seven who use booster seats are 59% less likely to be injured in the event of an accident than their peers using the standard shoulder and lap belts alone.
How Do I Know When My Child is Ready for a Booster Seat?
If a car seat with a five-point harness is still comfortable for your child and she fits in it properly, it’s best to leave her there until she outgrows it completely. Children are safer in those harnesses, so it’s not wise or particularly safe to rush into a booster seat before she’s reached the proper size.
If there’s a shoulder and lap belt in the seat where your child’s booster seat will be installed, she can sit without leaning forward or sitting on her knees, she’s at least three or four years old and weighs a minimum of 40 pounds, it may be time to consider a booster seat. If she’s outgrown her existing seat and isn’t quite big enough for a booster seat, there are combination seats on the market that graduate from a five-point harness-style seat to a booster seat when she’s reached that point. It’s important to consider your child’s level of maturity when deciding if she’s ready for a booster seat as well.
How Long Does My Child Need to Use a Booster Seat?
There is no hard and fast rule to determine when your child no longer needs to use her booster seat. In fact, she may need a booster seat in one vehicle but not another, due to the fact that a booster seat works with the standard safety belts installed by the vehicle manufacturer. The way that the seat of your vehicle is constructed will affect the way that a seat belt fits her, so it’s wise to make sure that you run the five-step test before graduating out of the booster seat in any new vehicle.
What is the Five-Step Test?
Determining whether or not your child is ready to ride in a vehicle without her booster seat will depend upon the results of the five-step test, which is a series of checkpoints that show whether or not she’s reached the proper size to forgo her booster seat in a particular vehicle. To conduct it, put your child in the seat she’ll be riding in and buckle the seat belt as if she were an adult, without her booster seat.
- Is she sitting all the way back against the seat of the car?
- Are her knees bent at a comfortable angle at the edge of the seat?
- Is the shoulder belt crossing between her neck and arm?
- Is the lap belt situated as low as possible across her body, touching her thighs?
- Are her posture and positioning comfortable enough that she will be able to stay seated in this manner for the entirety of the trip?
If you’re able to answer all of these questions with a confident “yes,” then your child may be ready to ride in that vehicle without her booster seat. A negative answer to any one of those five questions, however, indicates that she does still need the booster seat in order to ride safely in the vehicle.
Even if your child is large enough to comfortably and safely ride in your vehicle without a booster seat, the backseat is still the safest option. State traffic laws may also dictate the required age and size for allowing a child to ride in the front seat, so be sure that you’re apprised of the laws before making the move from the back to the passenger seat.