Everything You Need to Know About Booster Seat Guidelines

June 22, 2017

booster car seatYour kid’s old car seat is looking, well, crusty. It’s covered in chocolate stains and Goldfish crumbs, and your child keeps complaining the straps are too tight. Is he ready to move into a booster car seat?

Or maybe your 8-year-old has been using a car booster seat for years. She says she’s sick of feeling like a little kid. She wants to ditch the booster, but she’s small for her age. Is that OK?

There are two things to consider when you’re weighing moving your kid into, or out of, a booster car seat. One is the booster seat laws in your state laws. The other is the booster seat guidelines experts use to determine what’s safest. Here’s how they compare.

Booster Seat Laws

Just as laws mandate using a car seat for babies, they also say when an older child must sit in a booster seat. Surprisingly, these booster seat laws vary a lot by state. Some make the determination by age, while others factor in weight and/or height. For example:

  • In Alabama, kids must be in forward-facing seats or convertible seats until age 5 or 40 lbs. Then, booster seats are only mandatory until age 6.
  • California’s booster seat requirements depend on height. Children who are under 8 and 57 inches or less in height must use a booster seat or other child restraint system.
  • Connecticut says children under 7 and less than 60 lbs. have to use a child restraint.
  • Kansas’s booster seat laws say they’re required for children age 4 to 8 who weigh less than 80 lbs. or are less than 4 feet 9 inches.

As you can see, these laws are all over the map. So what do experts say about what’s actually safest for your child?

Booster seat guidelines

booster seat guidelinesThe most important thing to remember is this: “Don’t rush to move your child to a booster seat before they’re ready. Each time you ‘graduate’ your child to the next seat, there’s a reduction in the level of protection for your child,” AAA says. So hang onto the five-point harness seat you have, despite the stains, until your child reaches the upper weight or height limit. Convertible 3-in-1 seats can transform from a harness seat to a booster seat. However, you’ll have to check the weight limit to be sure it still works for your child.

While you’re at it, check the expiration date on the back of the seat itself. Most car seats expire after 6 years, and the expiration date is no joke. As plastic ages, it becomes brittle and weak. Neither quality is good if you want the car seat — and its passenger — to survive a crash.

Once your child moves to a booster seat, you may be using it for a long time. AAA’s booster seat guidelines are more stringent than any state laws. AAA recommends that children should use belt-positioning booster seats until they are at least 4’9″ and between 8 and 12 years old. “Safety belts are designed for 165-pound male adults, so it’s no wonder that research shows poorly fitting adult belts can injure children,” AAA says. When your child’s in the seat, the lap belt should fit low across the hips and the shoulder belt must go over the shoulder.

Booster Car Seat Checklist

An 11- or 12-year-old may balk at sitting in a booster car seat, but don’t back down! If using a booster car seat embarrasses your child, use a backless seat that won’t be seen from outside the vehicle. There’s a five-step checklist that tells you if your child is ready to lose the booster seat:

  • Does he sit all the way back against the car’s seat?
  • Do his knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?
  • Does the lap belt naturally rest below his belly, touching the top of his thighs?
  • Is the shoulder belt centered across his shoulder and chest?
  • Can he stay seated like this for the whole trip?

While safety’s on your mind, maybe it’s time to increase your car insurance coverage, or just find a better deal. Try comparing car insurance quotes. It only takes a few minutes to find the best deals on insurance and pick the one that’s right for you.

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