Selecting a booster seat for young children

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Image: “3 kids + 3 booster seats = tight squeeze” by vkanaya is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Once your child has grown out of their car seat, you may think that it would be okay to just let them use the seat belts in the backseat of your vehicle. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many times, your child is still too small for the seatbelts to work properly. This can lead to injuries, especially when the shoulder strap is too high on them, where it can hurt their neck, or when they decide to put the shoulder strap behind them and just use the lap belt.

The truth is that continuing to use a safety seat such as a booster until your child is at least 4’9” will decrease the chances of injury by 45%. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right booster seat and using it correctly until your child is old enough to go without one.

Booster Seats

Booster seats are designed to protect children who are too large for a car seat, but not yet tall enough for regular seat belt use. You will use the car’s seatbelts to secure your child, but the booster seat will lift them up so the shoulder strap and lap belt fit properly to ensure their safety.

Booster seats are typically available in two models: high-backed and backless. The high-backed models are the safest for vehicles with a low back seat and backless models work for vehicle seats that naturally provide full support to your child’s head and back.

If you are unsure how to install a car seat or a booster seat properly, you can find a safety seat inspection stationnear you. They will be able to help you with any questions you have as well as so you step-by-step how to properly install both types of car seats.

How to Choose a Booster Seat

As with a car seat, there are a few things to think about when you are buying a booster seat:

  • Is Your Child Ready? — just because your child has reached a certain age where you feel they should be in a booster seat doesn’t mean they are ready. If they are still within the maximum requirements of a car seat, feel free to keep them in it.
  • Choose Backless or High-Backed — the two types of booster seats are very different. High-backed boosters help keep the shoulder strap in place because they usually have a routing guide. Backless boosters are usually cheaper and they offer better lap belt positioning. Ultimately, the backs of your vehicle’s seats may be the determining factor, as lower seats will require you to purchase a high-backed model.
  • Make Sure Your Child is Comfortable — if you can, try a floor model with your child before buying a booster. They will be able to give some feedback as to the comfort and fit of the model, allowing you to make a better decision. The goal of a booster is to raise your child up so they can use the car’s seatbelts properly, so you need to make sure that the lap belt fits snugly across their upper thighs (not their stomach) and the should strap should fit across the middle of their shoulder rather than near their neck.

Using a Booster Seat

Children are ready for a booster seat typically between the ages of four and seven. Again, make sure that they’ve outgrown their car seat before transitioning them to a booster seat, otherwise, you risk injury. Just because other parents have transitioned their children to a booster doesn’t necessarily mean your child is ready.

As with car seats, a booster seat should always be placed in the back seat. Unlike car seats, however, you will probably need to place the booster behind one of the front seats. This is because vehicles rarely have shoulder harnesses in the middle seat. If your vehicle’s middle seat does, then you can place them in whichever seat you would like.

You should place your child in a booster seat until the regular seat belts of your vehicle fit them properly. It’s recommended that they use a booster until they are 4’9”, although if the booster still fits comfortably and properly and you want them to use it a little longer, they may. Typically, by the time your child is 12, they will be able to use the car’s seatbelts properly.

Even after your child has outgrown their booster seat, it safest to have them ride in the back seat. In the event of a crash, they still may be injured by the airbag, so it’s best not to let them ride in the front until their teenage years when their bodies are taller and stronger.

Taken from A Comprehensive Guide on Road Safety for Parents. For more on Car Safety and insurance – from baby to teenager, visit the site.