Booster Seat Information
Children between the ages of 4 – 8 are currently in the biggest risk category in terms of injury and death in motor vehicle crashes. The reason is that many parents, for whatever reason, are not keeping the child in a booster seat. A child should ride in a booster seat until he can sit with his back and bum up against the vehicle seat with his knees folded over the edge of the seat, and his feet touching the floor. This typically happens around 4’9″ tall and 80 lbs. At this height, the child will comfortably sit in the seat with the belt low across his hips and thighs, and it will come across the chest and the middle of the shoulder. Take the 5-step test to see if your child should be riding in a booster.
A study done by the NHTSA showed that only 6.1 percent of children who need booster seats are using them. A child who is not big enough to sit in a seat belt without a booster is in serious danger. Instead of the seat belt contacting the strongest parts of the body, it rests over the abdomen, which is the most vulnerable part of the body. In order to get comfortable, children often place the shoulder belt behind their back (or under their arm) and scoot forward so their knees bend over the edge of the seat. In a crash this child is likely to suffer severe abdominal, spinal, head, and neck injuries. These injuries are so common that they have been dubbed “seat-belt syndrome.“
A booster seat is outgrown when one of the following conditions occurs:
1. the child exceeds the weight limit of the seat.
2. The tips of the ears are above the back of the booster, vehicle seat back, or headrest.
3. The child passes the 5-step test All children 13 and under should be in the backseat. Sitting in the front seat increases the risk of injury by 33%.
The Different Types of Boosters:
Boosters come in 3 styles: backless, high back, and tray shield (see photos below). With all the choices, choosing a booster can be overwhelming. You can use either a backless booster or a high back booster. Tray shields should be avoided. Here are some things to consider:
If using a backless booster, the tips of the child’s ears must be below the back seat of the vehicle, or the vehicle’s headrest. This will protect their head and neck in the event of a crash. Older children tend to like backless boosters because they don’t feel as much like a “baby.”
High back boosters must be used if the vehicle does not provide adequate head protection (i.e. – the tips of the ears are above the vehicle seat back). High back boosters offer better side impact protection than backless boosters. Many seats are sold as a car seat/booster seat. It contains an internal harness for use as a forward facing car seat. When the child is ready, the harness is removed and the seat is used as a booster.
High Back Boosters
Tray Shield Booster:
Tray shield booster seats should not be used. See below to find out why.
Tray Shield Booster Warning:
A tray shield booster is a backless booster that has a shield in the front. The child sits in the booster, and the shield goes around their middle section. The lap portion of the seat belt is passed along the shield, and the shoulder portion is placed behind the child.. You cannot use the shoulder part of the seatbelt with a tray shield booster.
Tray shield boosters are unsafe should be avoided. There are serious flaws in the design of the shield booster. Firstly, you cannot use the shoulder belt, which leaves the child with no upper body support. The child can get thrown too far forward, resulting in spinal, neck, and/or head injuries. Many children hit their head on the shield. Secondly, the seat belt is wrapped around the shield, not the child. There is a gap between the child and the shield. The child can slam into the shield, be ejected, or submarine (slide out the bottom.) Visit CPSafety to learn more specifics on why tray shield boosters are unsafe.
Currently, the Cosco Grand Explorer is the only tray shield booster in production. All others have been discontinued. PACE (Parents Against Cosco Explorer) is dedicated to removing this seat from production.
The Dangers of Lap-Belts:
No passenger should ever ride in a lap-only seat belt seating position. Lap belts are great for installing car seats but are a dangerous restraint for a child or adult. Please visit CPSafety to learn more about the dangers of lap-belt only seatbelts. This site also lists options for children over 40 lbs with lap-belt only seatbelts.
Tips on Getting an Older Child to Sit in a Booster:
It can be difficult to get older children to sit in boosters, especially when many of their friends are riding in just a seatbelt. Here are some tips on getting your child to sit in a booster seat.
- Explain to the child what will happen to him if he is not riding in a booster and is involved in a crash.
- Establish a rule that the booster is a must. If she does not want to ride in the booster, she cannot leave the house. Missing out on a few fun events will convince her to ride in the booster.
- If he already has a booster and complains (and you think the problem is a comfort issue), let him play “detective.” Sit him in the seat while you take a drive. Then have him tell you why he doesn’t like the seat. Is it too small, too hot, does it hurt him, or dig into him? Then go to the store and have him pick out a new one. When a child has a say, he will be more willing to use the seat. Cup holders are especially enticing to children.
- Let her make the seat special by decorating the cover with markers, stickers, glitter, etc.
Here are additional resources on Boosters:
- Anton’s story
- Parent’s.com article – Dangerous Driving Mistakes Even Careful Parent’s Make
- How should preschool and school age children ride
- A parent’s guide to buying and using booster seats