Recently the National Highway Traffic Safe Administration (NHTSA) released updated data on usage and booster seat recommendations based on their 2015 National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats (NSUBS).
The primary purpose of the biannual survey is to estimate booster seat use among 4- to 7-year-old children. The survey also provides estimates on restraint use for all children under 13 and the extent children are “prematurely graduated” to restraint types that are inappropriate for them based on age, height and weight.
“When children are not buckled up or are riding in a seat that isn’t used correctly, their safety is in jeopardy,” said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. “You can act by making sure your kids are buckled up and in the right car seats for their age and size.”
The survey says:
- Booster seat use among 4- to 7-year-old children was decreased slightly to 44.5% in 2015.
- 17.9% were properly restrained in child car seats; the percentage of children 4 to 7 restrained in forward-facing car seat decreased slightly from 20.3% in 2013.
- An appropriate child restraint for 4- to 7-year-old children is either a forward-facing car seat or a belt positioning device like a booster seat. However, the NSUBS found that 37.4% of children 4 to 7 years old in the United States were not being properly restrained
- 25.8% were restrained by seat belts
- 11.6% were unrestrained
- Restraint use among 8- to 12-years-old girls decreased significantly to 82.6% in 2015 from 90.5% in 2013.
- Restraint use among children 8 to 12 years old whose height is between 37 to 53 inches decreased significantly to 83.4% in 2015 from 90.0% in 2013.
- Premature graduation to restraint types that are not appropriate for children’s age, height, and weight rose for children 1 to 3 years old as about 13.6% were prematurely graduated to booster seats; a significant increase from 9.3% in 2013.
What are NHTSA’s booster seat recommendations?
The most important of the booster seat recommendations is to use one. Even big kids need to be safe in cars!
NHTSA recommends children remain in a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness until the child reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by the seat. At which time, the child can move into a belt positioning device.
A belt positioning device should properly position the seat belt on the child. The shoulder belt should be positioned mid-chest and mid-shoulder. And the lap portion should be across the child’s thighs and hips.
The most common belt positioning device is a booster seat which raises a child up to fit the seat belt. There are other belt positioning devices like the RideSafer travel vest. The RideSafer vest allows the child to sit on the vehicle seat and brings the seat belt down to fit the child. (The RideSafer is certified for and can be used for smaller children in lieu of a forward-facing car seat as well, especially helpful as a secondary seat for travel or carpools.)
Children also need to be mature enough to properly sit in the booster seat. If they are using a no-back booster, children must not adjust the seat belt behind them or under their arm. The RideSafer comes with a tether strap, which we recommend using to help keep younger children properly positioned throughout the drive.
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Remember, in Sweden children remain rear facing until 4 years of age at which time they are turned forward facing in a booster seat. Sweden’s injury and death rate is significantly lower.
Once a child is in a belt-positioning booster seat (or other such device), the child should use that device until the child can pass the 5-step seat belt fit test. This usually doesn’t happen until a child is 4’9″ in height, which is typically when a child is somewhere between the ages of 8 and 12.
Why follow this recommendation?
However, the 2015 NSUBS found that 15.6% of children 8 to 12 years old were unrestrained. Unfortunately, this is an increase from the 10.6% who were unrestrained in 2013.
Booster seats reportedly reduce the risk for serious injury by 45% for children aged 4 to 8 years old compared to using just the seat belt.
Booster seats range in price from $20 to $250. They come in highback (which may have minimum weight of 30 pounds) or backless (which typically have minimum weight of 40 pounds) styles. We don’t recommend one over the other. Many parents start with a highback and move to a no back later. Some highback boosters can be transitioned into no-back boosters.
Backless boosters generally provide better lap belt fit. While highback boosters generally do a better job of positioning shoulder belts and lap belts. A highback will offer some head support and may offer some side impact protection.
The booster seat alternative, RideSafer, costs $165. We consider it better than a booster. RideSafer provides both a good lap belt fit and shoulder belt positioning. When used with its tether strap, it provides four contact points with the body as opposed to three with a booster seat. (When using RideSafer with a lap-only seat belt, the tether strap is required.) Plus, RideSafer offers energy absorption with it’s padded straps. And it keeps the shoulder belt properly positioned even if the child moves.
Compact boosters like the Bubblebum and Mifold are tempting for parents because of their portability. These may be more difficult to use because they require re-threading the lap belt with each use. Mifold doesn’t work well in all cars or with all seat belts, thereby giving poor seat belt fit in some. Unless you know it will work in the particular rental car you reserve, we don’t recommend traveling with Mifold. Bubblebum can be used for travel. Both can be fine spare boosters to keep on hand for extra riders in your car.
Remember you cannot use booster seats with a lap-only seat belt, whether in a car or on an airplane.
We want to know, is your 8 to 12 year old still in a booster seat? Or will your child? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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