All About Booster Seats

Why, when, and how to get your child into a booster seat.

Why to Use a Booster Seat

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for children age 4 to 14. In fact, a third of all children in the U.S. age 14 and under are riding in the wrong restraint type for their age and size, according to a 2002 observational study conducted by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

As babies move from a car seat to a seatbelt, the step that parents most often miss is using a booster seat for a child who has outgrown a forward-facing toddler seat. In fact, fewer than 6 percent of children who should be in a booster seat use one, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Lap and shoulder belts are designed for an adult?s body and do not protect young children in a crash. Moreover, a safety belt that doesn?t fit right can cause serious injuries to a young child in a crash.

A booster seat raises a child up so that the seat belt fits right and can better protect your child in case of an accident. The shoulder belt should cross your child's chest and rest snugly on his shoulder, and the lap belt should rest low across the pelvis or hip area -- never across the stomach area. Your child's ears shouldn't be higher than the vehicles back seat cushion or the back of a high booster seat.

When to Use a Booster Seat

As a general rule, children who have outgrown child safety seats should be properly restrained in booster seats until they are at least 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Here are some guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on how to graduate a child from a rear-facing infant seat, to a forward-facing toddler seat, then to a booster seat, and finally to a safety belt.

  • Step 1: Rear-facing infant seats in the back seat from birth to at least 1 year of age and at least 20 pounds.
  • Step 2: Forward-facing toddler seats in the back seat from about age 1 to about age 4 and 20 to 40 pounds.
  • Step 3: Booster seats in the back seat from about age 4 and 40 pounds to at least age 8 and 4 feet 9 inches tall.
  • Step 4: Seat belts at age 8 or older or taller than 4 feet 9 inches. All children 12 and under should ride in the back seat.

How to Use a Booster Seat

There are different types of booster seats that you can purchase.

High-back, belt positioning booster seats

Among these (the kind that boost your child up so the seat belt fits better), your choices are:

  • One that uses a lap/shoulder belt and provides head and neck support for your child if the vehicle seat back doesn't have a head restraint
  • One that converts from a forward-facing toddler seat to a booster seat and comes equipped with a harness. This type can be used as a forward-facing toddler seat when your child is age 1 to age 4 and between 20 and 40 pounds. When your child outgrows the toddler seat, remove the harness to use the seat as a booster seat, with the vehicle's lap/shoulder belt. When using the harness, the seats are attached using the vehicle seat belt system and a top tether anchor, if the vehicle has one, or attached with the LATCH system (for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children)

No-back, belt-positioning booster seats

These seats are used with a lap/shoulder belt and are only for use in vehicles with built-in head restraints. Once you've decided on a booster seat for your little one, here are a few safety tips when using it:

  • Always use both the lap and shoulder belt -- never just a lap belt.
  • The shoulder belt should never be placed behind a child's back or under the arm. If you do, your child could be seriously injured in an accident.
  • Replace a booster seat that has been in a crash -- the seat might have defects that you can't see.

Source: National Highway Safety Traffic Administration

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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