Does your kid need a car booster seat?

Child safety seats aren’t just for infants and toddlers! In many states, kids up through elementary school should be strapped into booster seats when driving. Here’s what you need to know.

Young girl in booster seat

Do you remember riding in a car seat or on a booster seat as a child? Probably not. Back then, kids were restrained in those safety seats when they were very little and then they made the swift transition to riding in the back seat with a regular ol’ seat belt.

Things have changed

Every mom knows that infants, toddlers and preschool-age kids need to be safely strapped into their child safety seats before the car goes anywhere. But what about your older youngsters? Believe it or not, your elementary school child may need to get strapped into a booster seat too. Since car seatbelts are intended for people who are four-feet, nine-inches or taller, children need to be elevated in a booster seat for the belt to be positioned right.

The problem? Many parents aren’t doing that. According to the recent C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, only 40 percent of parents require their kids to use booster seats by the time they are 8-years-old. What’s more is that parents who are still strapping their kids admit that if it wasn’t the law, they wouldn’t do it. According to the study 76 percent of children between the ages of four and eight ride in booster seats.

That’s bad news because seatbelts can injure kids in a crash if they aren’t positioned right. “The key issue here is safety, regardless of the child’s age. Booster seats improve the way a seatbelt fits a child. It helps lift them up in the cars’ seat so that the lap belt sits low on their thighs and doesn’t ride up on their abdomen,” says Michelle Lea Macy, M.D., M.Sc., who teaches at the University of Michigan where the study was performed.

Know your laws

Laws pertaining to cars and driving are handled on a state by state basis, so there is no single standard for everywhere when it comes to regulations pertaining to booster seats. However, 28 states do require that kids ride in booster seats until they are 8-years-old.

Want to find the laws for your state? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has a great up-to-date roundup on their Child Restraint Laws page.

This is one case where experts say that tapping into the knowledge of other parents could be a really bad idea. “Parents may think their child is too big to put in a booster seat or that booster seats are baby seats. Laws about booster seat use came into play in the last decade, so parents talking to other parents about what’s safest for their child may not be getting the right information,” says Macy.

How to choose a booster seat

Many experts recommend that children remain in child safety seats (the ones with the built in backs) until they reach the weight limit on the seat. After that, it’s time for a booster seat.

According to the IIHS, the ideal booster seat will elevate your child while positioning the safety belt properly: flat across the thighs and up and over the middle of the shoulder. “Parents can’t tell a good booster from a bad one just by comparing design features and price,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research.

When seeking a new booster seat for your child, it helps to consult rating like the booster seat ratings that are done by the IIHS. The ratings identify seats that are both good choices and those that are not recommended.

Here are the IIHS Best Bets:

  • Britax Frontier
  • Clek Oobr
  • Combi Dakota backless with clip
  • Cosco Juvenile Pronto
  • Eddie Bauer Auto Booster
  • Evenflo Big Kid Amp backless with clip
  • Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR
  • Recaro Vivo
  • Recaro Young Sport

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