Booster seats help your child sit comfortably in the car seat once they have outgrown their infant safety seat. A booster seat is often required throughout early childhood. It is only when the child approaches adolescence that parents may consider transitioning to the car seat. However, one has to consider several points before letting the child sit in the standard car seat.
In this post, we answer when to stop using a booster seat and the factors to consider before letting your child sit in a car without a booster seat.
When Can A Child Stop Using A Booster Seat?
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a child can stop using a booster seat when the car’s seat belt fits properly without the need for a booster seat (1). A seat belt is considered to fit properly when the lap belt goes across the upper thighs/the hips and not the stomach, while the shoulder belt goes across the chest and not the neck.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a car’s seat belt can fit properly once the child attains the height of 4 feet and 9 inches (150 centimeters) (2). Most children reach this height by the age of 13 and can sit without a booster seat.
How To Know The Child Can Stop Using A Booster Seat?
1. Belt position
The car seat belt may not fit in some cases even if the child has attained the requisite height. Therefore, check if your car’s seat belt fits your child correctly.
The shoulder belt must go over the child’s shoulder and the chest rather than the neck. A seat belt over the neck could be detrimental in a car crash. Also, a loose shoulder belt can slide over the child’s neck, thus negating its purpose.
The lap belt must go across the upper thighs or the hips. It should not lie over the belly where it may tug into the body in case of an accident.
2. Knee position
The child’s legs should comfortably bend over the seat’s edge with the knees placed in their natural position. If the child has to push the hip forward or slouch to let their knees come to the seat’s edge, then it is best to let them use a booster seat for some more time.
3. Feet position
The feet should lay comfortably flat on the car’s floor. If the child has to slouch, move forward, or strain their legs to lay the feet flat on the floor, they are not yet ready to move out of the booster seat.
4. Back position
The child’s back must be comfortably flush against the seat’s backrest. If the child slouches forward or there is a gap between the body and the backrest, your child is not ready to sit in the standard car seat. The correct back position against the backrest is vital to maintain the tension of the seat belt during a car crash.
Remember to check the child’s height and the above-mentioned factors before discarding the booster seat. Once your child is ready to move to the car seat, you can begin the process of transitioning.
How To Help A Child Transition To A Car Seat?
You may try the following steps to make it easier for a child to transition to a standard car seat.
- Practice in a stationary car: Before you take them for a long drive, let them have plenty of practice in a parked car. It is a good opportunity to educate the child about the importance of a seat belt and the correct way to buckle it. Encourage the child to do it themselves and find their comfortable position.
- Buy seat belt covers: It is a great way of making seat belts attractive to children. Take your child shopping for seat belt covers of their choice. You may pick seat belt covers that cushion the child during long drives.
- Make it a rite of passage to adulthood: Children are always keen on doing “grown-up things.” Make seat belt use an initial step into adulthood. Tell them how they are growing up and no longer can fit into booster seats meant for younger children.
What To Do If The Car Seat Belts Do Not Fit?
If the seat belts do not fit your child properly, it means your child is not yet ready to sit without a booster seat. Check other factors, such as the knee and back positions, to determine if the child is ready to sit in a standard car seat.
Some cars have height-adjustable seat belts. If your child meets all the requirements to sit without a booster seat but still faces issues with the seat belt, check the seat belt height. The seat belt height adjuster is located at the shoulder belt anchor on the car’s B-pillar (middle pillar). You may adjust the height until the seat belt goes across the child properly.
You may refer to your car’s manual for more details. Never buy after-market seat belt adjusters unless approved by the car manufacturer and regulatory authorities.
Should You Use A Booster Cushion?
A booster cushion is a booster seat without the backrest. It is ideal for children who do not meet the requirements to sit in a car seat. If your child needs a booster cushion to use a seat belt properly, they are not yet ready to stop using a booster seat (5).
Booster seats play a vital role in ensuring your child’s safety when seated in a car. Do not stop using it until the child meets all the criteria to sit comfortably in the standard car seat and use the seat belt properly. Appropriate use of seat belts is vital for safety, even during short drives.
2. Booster Seats for School-Aged Children; American Academy of Pediatrics
3. Car Seats and Booster Seats; NHTSA
4. Seat Belts; NHTSA
5. Booster Cushions; RoSPA