Booster seat requirements are worth Googling if you have a child between the ages of eight and 12-years-old, as parents typically use a booster seat for kids who’ve outgrown their car seats. In fact, it’s always important to keep tabs on booster seat requirements. They exist to help your kids stay safe in the car, which every parent should be concerned about — according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13.
As you begin looking into the appropriate safety restraint system, you’ll find that experts view car seats for kids as being slightly safer than booster seats. So, if your child is happy in their car seat, don’t stress about making the change unless they’re quickly outgrowing it. Keeping tabs on your child’s height and weight will give a reasonable estimate on when the search should begin. Of course, it’s also good to run any changes by your child’s pediatrician.
What are the booster seat height and weight requirements?
Usually, requirements are set based on age, height, and weight. On average, a height of 4 feet 9 inches, or 57 inches, is the minimum height to use a vehicle seatbelt without a booster. This is because, around that height, your car’s seat belt will be in proper placement. In fact, many booster seats have a maximum height limit of 57 inches. Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that kids use booster seats until they hit that 57-inch mark and are between eight- and 12-years-old.
Rear-Facing Car Seat
Requirements regarding child passenger safety have changed when it comes to making the switch-over. Having a younger child in a rear-facing seat is now recommended until a child is four, and when they reach the maximum weight and height limits of their car seat. As such, it’s imperative to check your car seat manual and labels on the car seat for weight and height limits.
Forward-Facing Car Seat
After outgrowing their rear-facing seat, children should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat in the back seat until they’re at least five years old and reach the upper weight or height limit of the car seat.
Once your little one outgrows the forward-facing car seat, it’s time for a booster seat. They should be buckled in a belt-positioning booster seat in the back seat until the seat belt fits properly (which, again, is around 57 inches tall on average). Per a 2015 national survey performed by NHTSA, more than a quarter of four- to seven-year-olds are prematurely moved out of their booster seat. So, be patient. Better safe than sorry, Mama.
Can a 4-year-old sit in a booster seat?
It’s vital never to put your child in a seat they’re not ready for. Often, children who are six or seven may feel like it’s too babyish to use a car seat — especially if their friends have already switched over to a booster. That can be a tough conversation for parents to have, but you should reiterate that every family will make the safest choice for their own situation. Kids are built differently and will hit these milestones at different times. However, as a rule of thumb, experts agree that a younger child should be in a rear-facing car seat until they’re four and/or reach the maximum weight and height limits for that car seat. At that point, the child should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat in the back seat until they’re at least five years old and reach the upper weight or height limit of the car seat.
Car safety is a big deal, and it’s something the entire family will need to take seriously.
What’s the difference between a car seat and a booster seat?
Car seats and booster seats have the same general purpose but plenty of differences. One of the biggest is the buckle. On a standard child’s car seat, there’s usually a five-point harness buckling system to help keep kids secure. The five-point harness is said to be one of the safest options since it helps position kids to be in the best position should a crash occur. Here’s a quick overview of booster seat types:
- Booster Seat with High Back: This booster seat is designed to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits safely and securely. Since it also offers head and neck support, it’s particularly well-suited for vehicles without headrests or high seatbacks.
- Backless Booster Seat: This booster seat is also designed to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits safely and securely. Since it does not offer head or neck support, it’s better suited for vehicles with headrests.
- Combination Seat: A car seat that transitions from forward-facing with a harness into a booster, this style is meant to “grow” with your child.
- All-in-One Seat: This is pretty much what it sounds like! This car seat starts as a rear-facing seat with a harness and tether but can transition to forward-facing with a harness and tether and then, ultimately, to a booster seat as your child grows.
Should you get a high back booster or a backless booster?
Like most things involved with parenting, you’ll ultimately have to make the choice that’s right for your family. Backless booster seats are considered the “traditional” type of booster seat. If you do choose this type, ensure your child’s ears are in line with the top of the vehicle’s seatback to help protect their head and neck from injury in the event of an accident. A backless booster should only be used in a car with headrests. You may find that your older child prefers a backless booster seat as it seems less “babyish.” You might prefer one because it’s lightweight, compact, and budget-friendly.
According to the Buckle Up for Life organization, high back booster seats offer “an extra level of protection due to the shock-absorbing side bolsters or ‘wings’ around the head, neck and, in some models, sides.” These types of booster seats typically have seat belt guides to help you correctly position the seat belt across the chest, shoulder, and hips. Crash tests studies have shown this additional side-impact protection significantly reduces the risk of injuries, including whiplash, when utilized correctly. It’s also important to note that not all high back booster seats can be used without a headrest, something to keep in mind when shopping for a booster seat and making your decision.
Bottom line? You must choose a car or booster seat based on your child’s age and size that also fits your vehicle, and use it every time your child is in the car. Make sure you refer to the seat manufacturer’s instructions and carefully read through the owner’s manual on how to utilize the seat belt or lower anchors and tethers while installing the seat. And always, always go over booster seat etiquette before any long trip so that your child knows how important it is.
What is the correct positioning for a booster seat?
It may be a good idea to buy a booster seat to physically see if your child is ready for it yet. If not, you can store it away until the time is ready.
Your child should be positioned in the booster seat according to your specific seat’s manual. When your child is in a booster, make sure to position the lap belt across their upper thigh area (not on the stomach). The shoulder belt should be “snug across the shoulder and chest,” per NHTSA (not the neck).
Need help installing your child’s booster seat? There is zero shame in asking for help! We highly recommend seeking out a certified child passenger safety technician near you to get assistance with proper installation and use.
Do booster seat requirements differ by state?
While it’s generally safe for everyone to follow the age, weight, and height requirements for booster seats, you should always cross-reference those requirements against any laws or requirements where you live. One way to do so is to look into the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) page for more information. They have access to straightforward guidelines by state so that you can guarantee that you’re on top of child car safety rules and regulations.
Booster Seat Safety Tips
Sometimes putting your child into a booster seat can seem like rocket science, but it’s important to do it safely so your child is well protected. So here are some safety tips you can use to keep your little one secure.
- Always make sure your child matches the height and weight limits of their car seat. A proper fit is critical to safety.
- The lap and shoulder belts must fit securely and lay flat against your child’s chest, shoulder blade, and upper thighs.
- Never place the seat belt behind your child’s arm or back.
- Being late is frustrating, but when placing your child in their car seat, take your time. Rushing through the process may cause you to miss a step, which can put your little one in danger.
- If you get a used car seat, ask for the instructions too. This is so you can ensure you have all the pieces for the booster seat. Also, look up the car seat brand to make sure it hasn’t been recalled.
- If there are multiple cars in your household, make sure the booster seat you choose fits in each vehicle before buying it.
- If you’re wary of how you’ve installed your child’s car seat check and want an official inspection, look into getting a trained tech check to look things over.
- Make sure to register your child’s car seat. That way, if there are any recalls, you’ll be alerted.
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