If Your Child Can’t Pass This “5 Step Test,” They Shouldn’t Be in a Booster Seat Yet

Pic of boy in booster seat.Lars Plougmann via Flickr

A question that often comes up for parents is when to switch their child out of their forward-facing car seat to a booster, and then to a regular seat belt. Weight and height requirements don’t always match up with your child’s body proportions, and things get confusing.

And then there’s the age. Your skinny 10-year-old is not interested in riding in any form of car seat. Safety experts and pediatricians have their recommendations, and so does your family. So many details. It wasn’t this way decades ago, was it?

Today, the standard for safety is the 5-point harness car seat. You will notice that some car seats convert into booster seats, leaving the 5-point restraint behind in favor of the car’s safety belt. But your child may not be ready to graduate to the booster stage right away.

How can you be sure? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that children ages 4 -7 should remain in a car seat with a 5-point restraint until they’ve reached the maximum weight and height requirements laid out in the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Depending on the child’s size, this is where some parents decide to move on to a booster seat. Ideally, your child should be over 40 pounds and up to 65 when making the shift to a booster seat. But even that comes with other stipulations because there is a proper way to ride in one.

According to go-to car seat guru, The Car Seat Lady, there are five things you want to check before moving your pumpkin from a forward-facing seat with a harness to a booster.

The first thing you want is for the child to be able to sit with their back against the seat’s back. Next, their knees should comfortably flex over the seat’s edge. The next two are key: the lap belt should rest on the thighs and not ride up to the stomach.

When buckling your child in, make sure to position the belt under the armrests. The shoulder belt should sit on the chest and shoulders, and not cut into the neck or cheek.

Lastly, – and this is a big qualifier – your kid has to be able to sit still without slouching, reaching onto the floor, fooling around with the seat belt, or general backseat horseplay. Good luck with that one.

In some countries, kids ride in booster seats designed for weights of 100 pounds or more. You will find 11 and 12-year-olds in a booster. As embarrassing as it can be for some of them, parents aren’t taking any chances with safety. One of things they watch out for is whether the top of the child’s head is too close to the top of the seat.

If you need help selecting a car seat, the NHTSA has a tool on their site that allows you to punch in your child’s size and age info and it will make recommendations. When buying one, just make sure it’s a current model.

What’s been your gauge for upgrading your child to a booster seat? Did you prefer a forward-facing one regardless of your child’s size? Have you found the car seat standards to be confusing at times?