By Zain Qayyum
A booster seat positions the vehicle's safety belt properly on a child. The booster makes sure that the lap belt rests on the child's lap, over the strong hip bones -- and nowhere near the soft belly. The booster also makes sure that the shoulder belt rests between the child's shoulder and neck -- so the child is comfortable and won't put the belt behind her back or under her arm. When a child rides on a booster, he must use the vehicle's shoulder AND lap belt across them. Boosters will not work with lap-only belts.
Why should kids ride in a booster?
Because the vehicle seat is too big and a child's bone structure is too small and underdeveloped to keep the safety belt in the proper place during a crash. A 4-8 year old child riding in a booster is 59% less likely to be injured in a crash than a 4-8 year old wearing a safety belt alone.
Are there different types of boosters?
Yes, there are two different types of boosters--backless boosters, and high-backed boosters. Which one to choose depends on your vehicle, the age, height and weight of your child, and you and your child's own preferences. Backless boosters are smaller and lighter and this makes them great for travel. High-backed boosters are better for sleeping and according to one study, are more beneficial in side impacts compared to seat belts or backless boosters.
Please note that combination seats are also sometimes called boosters or hybrid boosters. These seats start off as a 5-point harness car seat and can turn into a high-backed and/or backless booster once the child is big and/or mature enough.
Who Should Ride in a Booster?
Kids, especially younger ones, are safer in a 5-point harness. Don't rush to "graduate" your child to a booster seat. If your child still fits in his 5-point harness car seat, leave him there! Kids who are AT LEAST 40 pounds AND AT LEAST 3-4 years old can start using boosters.
If you can answer "Yes" to ALL the statements below, your child is okay to use a booster:
There is a shoulder AND lap belt where the child sits
The child is at least 40 pounds (kids are safer in a 5-point harness, especially those under 40lbs)
The child is at least 3-4 years old
The child can sit still the entire trip without leaning forward or sitting on their knees
Boy using a backless booster
When Can My Child Stop Using a Booster?
Do not stop using a booster seat unless you can answer "yes" to ALL of the questions listed here. Unless you can answer "yes" to all the questions, your child still needs a booster in order for the seat belt to fit correctly, no matter how tall, how heavy, or how old he is!
The 5-Step Test
Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?