Buckle Up! Big Kids in Booster Seats
Not sure where your kids should sit? Check here.
We all know the importance of seat belts. And of course infants need to be in rear facing car seats. We've even accepted that toddlers may need to continue using a car seat of sorts. But what about school aged kids? Most people seem to assume that once they start kindergarten, they're good to go.
From a safety perspective, kindergarteners just aren't physically ready for a seat belt designed for adults. They aren't big enough for an adult bike, or to ride on a grown up roller coaster. Why would we expect them to sit in a grown up seat in a car?
While most states try to regulate car seat safety by age and weight or height, the truth of the matter is that the best time to move a child from a booster seat to an adult seat will vary with each child. It depends on their personal frame, and the car's size. Even if a child meets the minimum age and weight requirements, if the seat belt doesn't fit properly, they need the booster seat.
There is a five point test to see if your child can safely sit in a car seat. So, before you remove the booster, sit them down in the passenger side and buckle up. Where does the shoulder strap cross the body? Where does the lap belt hit them? Can they sit properly in the seat or do they need to slouch? They may be able to pass the 5 point test in a sedan, but not the mini van. Or only in certain seats in that mini van.
It's good to note that a booster seat will adapt most seat belts to fit properly...even if the seat would have worked without the booster. So if your six year old fits in some cars without a booster, but needs one in most situations, you're better off sending the belt positioning booster with her on the next girl scout field trip. Whichever car she ends up in, the booster will adjust the belt to make her safe.
There is no legal maximum height or weight to using boosters, manufacturers will label their own regarding appropriate weight limits. The booster will only work properly (and has only been tested and verified as appropriate) for the listed weight range, so read that manual or look it up on line!
Where Should Kids Sit?
Although some parents hate feeling like taxi drivers, the safest place for kids under the age of 12 is the back seat. Some states even make the back seat mandatory!
If your child is in a rear facing car seat, they need to ride in a back seat. The drivers side airbags of newer vehicles can deploy even in a mild collision, causing serious injury to the rear facing rider. Booster seats can be installed in front seats only if they do not fit properly in the back seat. (IE; the back seats only have lap belts and the seat requires a shoulder belt) If you have 4 under-12 year old riders and only drive a car that seats 5; you can put the 4th child in the front seat. Most laws make exceptions for drivers that use common sense. Just make sure that the child riding up front is belted properly, that the car seat is adjusted as far back from the dashboard as possible, and turn off your airbag. The lucky kid riding up front should be the oldest, or the one whose car seat is least able to adapt to the back seat set up. (Never a rear facing car seat)
Don't Boosters Send the Wrong Message?
Some parents feel that keeping kids in booster seats sends the wrong message. We want kids to grow up, and to be proud of how 'big' they're getting. But you can't regulate growth. When it comes to motor vehicle safety, size is the main factor in regards to seat belt safety. (Well, you do need to actually use the belts and boosters for them to be effective.)
Since kids can't control how quickly they grow, focusing on size as a measure of maturity is not very effective. There are 3 year olds who can pass for 5; and 10 year olds who could pass for 6. Just like kids understand that height is going to be the deciding factor as to whether they ride a roller coaster on your next amusement park trip, they can understand that boosters are simply a way of life before you reach the size limitations. Boosters aren't for babies. Boosters are for safety.
Focus on other rewards for mature behavior in the car. Big kids ride safely, in boosters, and they get water bottles. They get to color. They get to choose which side of the car they enter on.
And who says being a kid isn't a good thing? Kids grow up too fast these days. Before you know it, they won't only be out of that booster seat, you'll be looking up to look them in the eye and trying to get them to stop borrowing your good boots.
Save the "You're so big, you don't need this anymore" arguments for bed rails and bottles. And enjoy the time they spend in a car seat...once they leave it behind, it's only a matter of time before they won't want to be seen with mom or dad.
Traveling out of state
If you happen to be traveling out of state this year, the car seat laws become especially important. Even if you're only driving through a corner of Texas, if you happen to be pulled over inside of state lines you'll need to have your children properly restrained. The same goes for any state, really. The easiest thing to do, of course, is to go by the strictest guidelines. Buckle kids under the age of 10 into a booster seat before you set off. If they complain, point out that it might help with carsickness since they can see out the windows better.
You can also check out the specific laws by state. The fines for a child not being properly restrained, as specified by the state, vary by jurisdiction. Both the child's parent and the driver may face fines in some areas. So buckle up those big kids! (And don't forget to buckle your own belt, too.)