Use car seats with harnesses to the top weight or height limits for the harnesses. Once children outgrow harnesses, use a booster seat in the back seat until the seat belt fits properly. A booster seat is often needed until a child is around 4 feet 9 inches tall. Your child may be about 12 years old before he/she is ready for a seat belt.
- Once children outgrow weight and height limits for traditional safety seats, they should travel in belt-positioning booster seats in the back seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4’9″ tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age.
- Using a booster seat with a lap/shoulder belt instead of just a safety belt reduces injury by 45% for 4 to 8-year-olds.
- Many states (including Virginia) require by law that children travel in a child seat or booster seat until at least age 8. Graduation out of a booster seat in best determined by proper fit of a safety belt, and many small-frame youngsters will require a booster seat long past the minimum age.
- Booster seats raise children higher so the safety belt fits over strong, bony parts of the body (e.g., hips and chest). Seat belts fit poorly on children’s bodies, increasing injury to soft and vulnerable parts of the body (e.g., stomach and neck). Booster seats keep children safe until they are big enough to safely use regular seat belts.
- If you answer “no” to any of the following questions, your child is not ready to come out of the booster seat:
- Does the child sit all the way back in the seat?
- Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?
- Does the shoulder belt cross the chest at the shoulder, not the neck?
- Does the lap belt fit low and snug on the hip bones, touching the upper thighs?
- Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
- Booster seat weight and height ranges vary greatly. Read labels to determine the correct seat for age, weight, and height.
- Both high-back and no-back boosters are available. High-back boosters are useful in vehicles that do not have head restraints or have low seat backs. Backless boosters are usually less expensive and are easier to move from vehicle to vehicle. Backless boosters can be safely used in vehicles with headrestraints and high seat backs.
- Many high-back boosters are actually combination seats. They come with harnesses that can be used for smaller children and can then be removed for older children.
- READ the instruction manual AND the safety belt/seat section in your vehicle manual.
- Children should always ride in the back seat unitl age 13.
- Lap and shoulder belts are required with booster seats. If you have only lap belts in your car, there are some alternatives, including having shoulder belts installed in your vehicle, using a safety seat with a harness system that goes up to high weights (e.g., 85 lbs.), or using a travel vest (see a list of some available vests).