Skip to main content
child booster

Give Your Older Child a Safety Boost!

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Gayle Whitworth, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, University of Florida Extension, Brevard County
This post is in honor of Child Passenger Safety Month.

My older daughter just started the fifth grade, and like most kids her age, she thinks of herself as pretty mature. She has highly particular taste in clothes and music, excellent sarcasm and eye-rolling skills, and at times, she seems more computer-savvy than I am. However, one thing she isn’t is big for her age. At the moment, she’s well under 5 feet and below 70 pounds.

It’s for this reason that my daughter, “tween” that she is, is still riding in a booster seat in the car, just like her 6-year-old brother. And to her credit, she really doesn’t protest. On the few occasions she’s gone without, she’s complained about how the seat belt cuts into her neck—a sure sign that she is indeed still too small and short for an adult belt.

New Booster Law in FL

Did you automatically ditch the booster seat for your kids when they turned 8 (the technical legal age when it is “okay” to use an adult belt in many states)? Lots of parents do. Maybe you moved him or her out of any type of car seat at age 4, as the lax child seat laws in FL still allow, though this is about to change. (Be aware, FL parents: a new state law goes into effect January 1, 2015 requiring children to be in either a car seat or booster until their 6th birthdays.)

Kids in Boosters are Safer!

After years of car seat and booster use, it really may seem tempting to get rid of these devices as soon as legally possible, even if a child is still quite small. But did you know that a child in a booster seat in the back seat of the car is 45% less likely to be injured in a crash than a child in a seatbelt alone? When small children ride in an adult belt, the seatbelt just can’t restrain them correctly. Serious head, spine, and abdominal injuries can result in a crash.

Age-Based Laws Move Many Kids Too Soon

The problem with “age 8” (or “age 6”) laws is that the age of a child does not predict his or her size very reliably. (Just think of the children in your child’s class and how they vary in height and weight!) As a general guideline, children still need a booster until they’re at least 4 ft 9 inches and between 80 and 100 pounds. That could already have happened at age 8—or, as in the case of my daughter, it may still not have happened at age 10, or even older.

How to Know When Your Child is Ready

And while height and weight provide more accurate guidelines, you need to look at the fit in person to really know whether a child is ready to safely ride with a seat belt only. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises parents that for adult seatbelts to be safe for your child, all these conditions must apply:

  • Child can sit up straight with his or her knees bent over vehicle seat.
  • At the same time, his or her feet should be flat on the floor, not dangling.
  • The belt should lie across the upper thighs, not the stomach.
  • The seat belt should go across the shoulder, not cut into the neck.
  • The child can maintain this position the entire time he or she is in the car.  (Kids shouldn’t slouch down in the seat or lean over to lay their heads on the window or seat.)

This quick and clear video reviews these conditions with a real-life example:

You may notice that the child in the video is riding in the back seat. This is also important! Children are much safer in the back seat, and ideally should ride in back till age 13. Although FL has no such legislation, some states have laws requiring children to be a certain age before they are legally permitted to ride up front (some exceptions may exist).

Boosters = Comfort

Safety is really important, but it’s true that an older child may protest the booster. Here’s another angle: comfort! I’ve noticed that many younger children who ride without boosters don’t look very relaxed or cozy. (Have you ever noticed your child squirming around and putting the belt behind his or her back or arm because it’s bugging him or her? Not safe!) There are many cool-looking and comfortable booster options out there—cup holders included—that will help your child enjoy riding in the car a bit more. Parents will also appreciate knowing that there are tons of light, inexpensive options. We carry an extra one in the trunk of our car to lend out when the kids ride with other families, or to use for extra riders. At around $15, it wasn’t much of an investment.

I know what it’s like to have a child who wants to grow up fast, but when it comes to car safety, I don’t budge. Unfortunately, car crashes are still the #1 cause of accidental death for children between 5 and 14, and a top cause of death for children of all ages…statistics I don’t feel I can ignore. It’s easy and inexpensive to continue to keep your older child safe in the car by giving him or her a little “boost.”

(Photo credit: Jacob, Star Riser. Public Domain.)

Further Reading:

What to Know about Booster Seats

Booster Seat Safety Tips

Car Seat Check-up Events: Get your car seat installation checked by a trained technician.

References:

CDC. (2011). 10 Leading Causes of Injury Deaths by Age Group Highlighting Unintentional Injury Deaths, United States – 2011. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/pdf/leading_causes_of_injury_deaths_highlighting_unintentional_injury_2011-a.pdf 

NHTSA. (n.d.) Know the facts about booster seats. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/childps/archive/promote/know.htm

NHTSA. (2012). Traffic safety facts: 2012 data. Retrieved from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812011.pdf 

Parents Central. (n.d.) Seat belts. Retrieved from http://www.safercar.gov/parents/Seat-Belt-Safety.htm

Safe Kids Worldwide. (2014). Booster seats. Retrieved from http://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_age/big-kids-5%25E2%2580%25939-years/field_risks/booster-seat

Safe Kids Worldwide. (2014). What to know about booster seats. Retrieved from http://www.safekids.org/infographic/what-know-about-booster-seats