Did you know that although many state laws don’t mandate booster usage beyond age 8, that most children still need them? A (not so) Fun Fact: Children ages 5 and older have higher fatality rates in car crashes than children ages 4 and under. Much of this is because of improper booster usage and taking children out of boosters too soon.
Using booster seats reduces the risk of injury by 59% when compared to using adult seat belts alone.
Parents and caregivers have done such a great job of implementing the advice of experts to keep babies rear-facing for longer and it reflects in the numbers. But we still have work to do in this area for older kids: both in not rushing to booster seats from harnessed car seats and not rushing out of booster seats.
Unlike some milestones that are dependent on age and/or weight, graduating from a booster seat is about how the seat belt fits. The test that determines if the seat belt fits properly is called the 5-Step Test (discussed below).
First let’s look at a few reasons on why boosters matter for this age group.
1. Seat Belts Are Made For Adults
When it comes to design, cars are measured and made for adults, not children. If it doesn’t fit your child–it’s a lot less likely to help them. Safety features will only protect our children if we modify our vehicles to fit our children.
2. Children Have Immature Bones
Many adults will joke, “Hey, I should probably be in a booster seat myself!” But there’s a huge difference in a grown adult versus a growing child/preteen: their bones. Until puberty is complete, parts of the human skeleton are not fully ossified (or fused together). Simply put, their bones are not as strong as an adult’s even if they are similar in size. That means an ill fitting seat belt is more dangerous for a child.
3. Misusing the Seat Belt Can Injure a Child
Ill-fitting seat belts increase the chance that children won’t wear them correctly, which leaves them vulnerable. If the seat belt is uncomfortable, that is a signal that some action needs to be taken.
When children move their shoulder portion of the seat belt behind their back or under their arm, it is actually quite dangerous. While it’s better than being ejected from the vehicle, children are significantly more likely to incur head and abdominal injuries wearing the lap portion of the seat belt only. The force from the crash will be concentrated on a smaller part of their body (hips/abdominal area), and the belt may ride up over their hips to the soft part of their abdomen, and their head is more likely to strike the seat in front of them, possibly injuring the brain or spine. Using a lap belt only can case Seat Belt Syndrome.
Here’s a simulation of the difference of wearing a lap belt only versus a properly positioned belt with a booster seat:
4. The Law Isn’t Always the Safest Choice
Child Passenger Safety Laws have come a long way over the years. While there have been some major victories like Oklahoma’s Car Seat Law, it still doesn’t tell the whole story. Like many laws, progress is often very slow. It can take years and years for laws to catch up with technology, science, and culture. Despite what the laws say, nearly all experts agree that many children aren’t ready to ditch the booster seat until they are 10-12 years old (typically around 4’9″ in height) and can pass the 5-Step Test.
5. Seat Belts May Fit Differently in Each Vehicle and Seat
Your child has recently passed the 5-Step Test! No more boosters, right?! But wait! Every vehicle has a different design and even if your child fits properly in their usual place in your car, they may still need a booster in a different car or a different spot in your car. Any change in seating can affect how well the seat belt fits you, so keep a spare booster on hand.
Each of the following criteria have an impact on the effectiveness of the seat belt–so they are all very important. Here is what needs to happen before your child is ready to use the adult seat belt without a booster:
- They can keep their back flat against the vehicle seat
- Their knees bend naturally at the edge of the seat
- The lap belt rests on tops of thighs/hips; not on their belly
- The shoulder belt fits between neck and shoulder
- They sit properly for the entire ride: no slouching, laying sideways, playing with the seat belt, etc.
Sometimes parents face some push-back from your children (and sometimes, even adults) for requiring that they use booster seats. It is so tempting to give in to our kids’ whining, but in this case remember that it could be a matter of life and death, and you are responsible for their safety above whatever embarrassment or hurt feelings may come along with this decision.
Tell us in the comments how you handle the pressure to let your child ride without their booster!
For more information about booster seats and seat belts, refer to the links and videos below. You can do this, mamas!
A few hints in finding the right booster seat for you:
- If you have a child who things they are “too cool” or “too big/old” for a booster seat, there are low profile boosters on the market like the Safety 1st Incognito.
- A low cost option (Harmony Youth Booster) that is still very highly rated can be found at your local Walmart.
- Younger children may benefit from a high-back booster seat which gives them more support, especially if they fall asleep in the car.
- A good option for travel or carpool is the inflatable Bubble Bum booster seat. It sounds crazy but it works great!