Once your child outgrows their car seat, you might think that the next step is simply the safety belt in your car. Wrong!
“Seat belts are not designed to fit children correctly until they are at least 57 inches tall and weigh between 80 to 100 pounds,” Jill Lucas Drakeford, a Carilion Clinic Community Health educator and coordinator for Safe Kids Southwest Virginia.
The next step is a booster seat. Booster seats protect children who are too big for a car seat but too small for the seat belt in your car.
But how do you know when your child is ready to make the transition from a car seat to a booster seat?
According to Drakeford, you should keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.
“Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat,” added Drakeford.
Keep your child in a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly.
“For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach,” explained Drakeford. “The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face.”
And remember, your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer in the event of an accident.
A booster seat provides a step between a car seat with a harness and a seat belt alone. It boosts the child for a safer and more comfortable fit of the adult seat belt. Below are more tips from Safe Kids Worldwide on how to properly use a booster seat:
- Make sure your child has outgrown the weight or height limits allowed in the forward-facing car seat.
- Make sure your child is mature enough to ride without a harness, able and willing to stay in the booster seat the entire ride with the seat belt properly fitted across the shoulder and below the hips.
- When your child is seated in the booster seat, make sure the lap and shoulder belts fit. The seat belt must lie flat across your child’s chest, on the bony part of the shoulder and low on the hips or upper thighs.
- Do not place the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind the child’s back.
- Check your child’s growth a few times a year; older kids don' t get weighed and measured routinely as often as babies do. Most kids will be 8 to 12 years old before they are ready for the seat belt alone.
- Be sure you ask about booster use if your child is in a carpool.
Even if your child puts up a fuss about being buckled in to a booster seat, it is an absolute necessity to keep them safe while you are on the road.
“Children seated in a booster seat in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone,” noted Drakeford.
Watch this video below for more about the importance of a booster seat for your (little) big guy.
If you have questions about properly installing your child’s booster seat or car seat, stop by one of Carilion’s car seat safety check stations and get it checked by a nationally certified technician.
A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that 95 percent of car seats (yes, 95 percent!) are being used or are installed incorrectly. Make sure you child is safe and get your seat checked today!
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