When Can You Stop Using a Booster Seat: A Simple Guide
Growth milestones are events that many families look forward to.
From your child’s first words to the moment he or she is finally graduated from the booster seat, these landmarks of growth are some of your most treasured memories of your family, specifically your children.
Child breakthroughs give the best feeling, and, as parents, sometimes you're compelled to rush things when given the slightest indication that it might be safe or “okay” to do so.
Before helping your child transition from a booster seat to a seat belt, it is paramount to make sure he or she is 100 percent ready.
Does your child really need a booster seat? And when can you stop using a booster seat?
Why Your Child Needs a Booster Seat
Before we get to our discussion on when to do away with a booster seat, let’s first go over the importance of having one in the first place.
Secures the Child Tightly
Seat belts, being made for adult bodies, aren’t fully equipped to secure children to their seats and, therefore, don’t really do much to protect your little ones in the event of an accident.
Booster seats, however, have proven to reduce the risk of crash-related injuries by 45 percent.
The booster seat’s name says it all: it gives your child the necessary boost on their seat, so they’re high enough for the lap and shoulder portions of the seat belt to be appropriately positioned across their bodies, giving them the protection they need on the road.
Prevents Organ Damages
Regular seat belts can actually be more dangerous for your children if they can't wear them properly.
A lap belt positioned flat across the tummy, which is what happens without a booster seat, can potentially crush a child’s internal organs in the event of a collision.
The strap could damage the spleen, liver, and stomach when it suddenly and forcefully strains across the lower belly upon impact.
In other cases, the shoulder belt could sit too close to the neck and injure it, along with the throat, if the vehicle crashes.
Since this can also be an especially uncomfortable position to be in, your child might transfer the belt under their arm or behind their back, both of which could potentially do some serious damage to the ribs, skull, spinal cord, and internal organs.
Prevents Car Crash Deaths
Even when it seems your child has outgrown his or her car seat, you should still take extra precautions before letting them transition to a seat belt.
An effective safety measure for this is the booster seat.
You shouldn’t think twice about using a booster seat given that hundreds of millions of children get injured, and thousands of them die from car crashes alone.
The fact that lack of proper safety restraint is the reason for most of these deaths is really something to think about.
It’s not just high-speed collisions you should be worried about either because most of the crashes involving young children happen a few minutes away from home.
Your children’s safety is paramount. Whether you’re at home or on the road with your little ones, you want to make sure you do whatever it takes to keep them safe.
If you are unable to keep an unfortunate event from taking place, the proper safety practices you implement should help ensure that the damage done is minimal.
When Can You Stop Using a Booster Seat
For you to know if your child can already stop using a booster seat, here are some guides for you:
Laws and Organizations
The law will usually tell you when your children can stop riding in boosters or car seats.
However, these laws vary depending on the state based on your child’s age, weight, and height.
It’s always best for parents to familiarize themselves with the car seat laws in their state before making a decision.
It’s also important to remember that car seat laws aren’t foolproof, and you must consider other important factors before making a decision.
Organizations dedicated to child health and safety recommend that a child whose height and weight surpasses the forward-facing limit of their car seat should use a booster seat until the motor vehicle’s seatbelt fits them properly.
In other words, parents have to wait until their child is about four 4'9" or somewhere between eight and 12 years old before letting them transition to an actual seatbelt.
Some parents make the mistake of not waiting long enough, transitioning their children prematurely out of their booster when they’re only between four and seven years old.
In such cases, kids have a higher risk of getting injured during a crash.
There’s no need to rush. Other kids might graduate from their boosters earlier because they’re taller, but that shouldn’t matter to you, and you should tell your kids that it shouldn’t matter to them, either.
What’s most important is that your children are safe and happy and, regardless of how long it will take, eventually, you will celebrate that milestone of using a seatbelt.
To know when it’s time to bid goodbye to the booster seat, first, sit your child on the actual seat of the vehicle. It would be best to go through a checklist composed mostly of questions discussed below.
If your answer is “Yes.” to each of these questions, then, it follows that the answer to “When can you stop using a booster seat?” should be somewhere along the lines of “Right now!”.
1. Is Your Child’s Back Flat Against the Seat of the Vehicle?
When your child’s entire back lies flat against the seatback, he or she assumes a posture that limits the looseness of the seatbelt, which, in turn, lets your child get the full benefits of wearing the belt with little forward movement.
Children who can't sit comfortably on the seat yet may slide their hips forward and create space between their back and the seat’s back, causing the belt strap to go an inch higher up to their belly.
2. Can Your Child’s Knees Bend Comfortably at the Edge of the Seat?
If your child’s knees bend before touching the seat’s edge, then he or she will still require a booster.
There’s simply no way around it since this could increase their risk of getting harmed or injured during a collision.
When the backs of your child’s knees don’t fold over the edge of the seat properly, it will make them do a slouching position that allows them to bend their knees comfortably.
The risk of injury for this posture is quite high as it, again, causes the belt to move upwards and onto the soft part of your child’s belly.
3. Is the Shoulder Belt Smack Dab in the Middle of Your Child’s Shoulder and Neck?
For a young child, the shoulder belt can literally be “too close for comfort”.
By this, we mean, the shoulder portion of the strap could be resting too close to the neck that it could potentially injure the child’s neck and throat.
One thing about this position that parents need to know is that kids won't find it too comfortable.
Your little ones will be tempted to place the shoulder strap behind their back or under their arm so it doesn’t push on their neck too much.
This position renders the belt completely incapable of protecting your child during a crash.
4. Does the Lap Portion of the Belt Sit Low Across Your Child’s Upper Thighs?
When the lap belt rides high up on your child’s lower belly, then you will want to keep that booster seat for a little longer.
The soft abdomen is no place for the belt to wound across since it can easily squeeze the child’s internal organs during an accident or collision.
The proper location of the lap belt should be across the tops of your child’s thighs, where it’s offered the much sturdier foundation of the hip bones.
5. Can Your Child Stay Comfortably Seated for the Entire Trip?
There must be something wrong if your child keeps fidgeting in his or her seat, trying to get comfy.
Remember that if a child is uncomfortable in their seat, they will do whatever needs to be done, including misusing their seat belt, to get comfortable.
Uncomfortable children tend to assume less-than-ideal postures that keep them from getting the belt’s full protection in the event of a crash.
If your children always move around their seats, they might not be ready to be taken out of their boosters yet.
As previously discussed, if your answer to all the above questions is “Yes.”, then it’s surely time to graduate your child from his or her booster seat.
On the other hand, if your answer is “No.”, even with just one question, then your child simply isn’t ready to get off that booster.
That is perfectly okay because they’ll eventually be able to in due time.
Prematurely transitioning your child to your vehicle’s seat belt can significantly increase their injury risk during a crash.
Also, you’ll want to keep in mind that not all vehicles are created equal.
Your car might have seat belts that fit perfectly across your child’s shoulders and upper thighs, but that does not mean another car will present you with the same situation, in which case a booster seat must be kept in handy.