A “belt-positioning booster”, or simply a booster seat, helps to give children the extra height they need to make a vehicle’s seat belt fit properly. Boosters work by propping the child’s seating surface up to match the profile of an adult’s. This allows the vehicle’s seat belt to properly interact with the child’s strong pelvis and shoulder/upper torso. Boosters help to route the lap-portion of the seat belt low over the child’s thighs and pelvis, and keeps it away from the child’s fragile abdomen. Boosters also give the child extra height so that the shoulder-portion of the belt interacts properly with the center of the shoulder, and does not cross the child’s neck.
CHILDREN ARE TWICE AS LIKELY TO SURVIVE A COLLISION WHEN USING A BOOSTER SEAT VS. A SEAT BELT ALONE
WHEN TO SWITCH FROM A BOOSTER TO A SEAT BELT
Your child should use a booster seat until he reaches the upper height or weight limit of the booster, and should transition to a seat belt alone only when the belt fits properly. In general, a child needs to be 4’9” tall to ensure a good fit in the seat belt. The seat belt fits properly when the following are ALL true:
THE FIVE STEP TEST
Whether or not a child fits in a seat belt can depend on the size of the vehicle and the design of the seat belt. A child may fit in a seat belt in one vehicle, but still need a booster to help position the seat belt properly in another vehicle. A good rule of thumb is that a child should be 4’9” to ride in a seat belt without a booster, but careful observation must be done to ensure that the child meets all of the above requirements in each vehicle he rides in.
Set a good example for your children and wear your seat belt on every trip, no matter how short it may be.
INSTALLING A BOOSTER SEAT
CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 13 SHOULD RIDE IN THE BACK SEAT
A booster seat typically doesn’t require any physical installation; it is just placed on the seat and your child sits on it with his seat belt buckled. However, some manufacturers allow or require booster seats to be installed using the lower anchors. Read the instruction manual to determine if your booster should be installed using lower anchors. Also, be aware that an unoccupied, unrestrained booster can become a projectile during a crash and injure other passengers. If your child is not riding in the booster, be sure to secure the unoccupied booster in the seat using either the seat belt or lower anchors.
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BUCKLING IN YOUR LITTLE BUCKEYE
If you’re using a backless booster be sure that your child is in a seat that has a head rest, or a high seat back to support his head. Adjust the head rest so that the tops of your child’s ears are below the top. If there is no head rest move him to another seating position or use a high-back booster so he will have the proper head, neck, and back support. Occasionally a high-back booster can only be in a seating position that has a head rest, so be sure to check your instruction manual to see what the manufacturer allows.
Boosters can only be used with a lap and shoulder belt - DO NOT USE A BOOSTER WITH A LAP BELT ONLY.
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CHOOSING A SEAT
“Combination” car seats refer to seats which can be used as a forward-facing car seat (with the 5-point harness), and then transform into a belt-positioning booster.
When your child is ready to switch to belt-positioning booster mode, remove the 5-point harness from the shell of the car seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When in booster mode, you must use a seating position which has a lap and shoulder belt, never just a lap belt alone. Read the instructions to determine the correct path for the vehicle’s seat belt to route around your child while he sits in the seat. Usually the booster seat will have seat belt guides near the child’s hips and a slot near the child’s shoulder to route the seat belt through. Ensure that the seat belt sits low on your child’s hips and does not touch his neck. If the booster does not position the seat belt properly, then your child should use a different car seat.
Some combination seats allow you to keep the seat installed to the vehicle seat using the LATCH system while in booster mode, but others do not. Some boosters simply rest on the vehicle seat and are held in place with your child using the seat belt. Read the instructions or contact your seat’s manufacturer if you are not sure how to install your seat in the mode you want.
“Three-in-one” car seats can convert between three different modes. Usually this refers to a seat that has rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster modes. Sometimes, however, the term is used for a car seat that can be used in forward-facing, high-back booster, and backless booster modes, so read the labels carefully. These types of seats are a great option for parents who want to get a lot of mileage out of a single purchase. However, you should be aware of your car seat’s expiration date (usually 6-10 years beyond date of manufacture) and never use it beyond that point. Read the instructions carefully to determine which mode is appropriate for your child. Three-in-one car seats will feature different installation instructions for each mode. Make sure that you are using the correct base settings, shoulder harness slots, and seat belt route for the mode in which you wish to install it. When in booster mode, you must use a seating position which has a lap and shoulder belt, never just a lap belt alone.
A “high-back” booster is the best option for a newly-transitioned child who has never used a booster seat before. This type of booster has a back which usually holds and positions the shoulder portion of the seat belt properly over the child’s shoulder (keeping it away from his neck). Some children like high-back boosters because they have side wings which make the child feel more secure. Many parents and safety advocates like them because they make it harder for the child to squirm away from the proper seat belt position! Like all boosters, this type should only be used in a seating position which has a lap and shoulder belt, never just a lap belt alone.
“Backless” boosters do not have the back portion, so the shoulder portion of the belt is more free to move. These types of boosters can be very safe, but only if the child understands how to sit properly in one and does not allow the shoulder belt to move to improper positions. If a child demonstrates that he is mature enough to use a backless booster properly, then a backless booster is a fine safety option. However, backless boosters should only be used in vehicle seating positions which have a head rest to properly restrain your child’s head from behind. Make sure to adjust the head rest to the proper height for your child. Like all boosters, this type should only be used in a seating position which has a lap and shoulder belt, never just a lap belt alone.