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When Can My Child Switch from a Booster Seat to a Seat Belt?

5 step test seat belt fit

Get to know the 5-step seat belt fit test prior to moving your child out of a RideSafer or traditional booster seat.

We are with our oldest son, Mason (10 years old), who is going to help us share with you the 5-step seat belt fit test. The 5-step test is how you as a parent or caregiver can determine when you can switch your child from a booster seat to a seat belt.

  1. Does the shoulder portion of the seat belt lay mid chest, mid shoulder?
  2. Is the child able to sit with his bottom all the way to the seat back
  3. Does the child’s knees bend at the edge of the seat with their feet on the floor?
  4. Is the lap portion of the seat belt across the child’s upper thighs and hips?
  5. Can the child stay in this position for the whole trip?

Can your child safely 5 step? If you answered no to any one of these questions, then your child still needs a belt-positioning device like a booster seat or a RideSafer travel vest.

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If not now then when?

RideSafer best travel car seat

When a child can pass the 5-step seat belt fit test depends on the child’s height. This can vary from car to car. They may be able to pass the 5-step test in one car and not in another. Or even in one seating position in a car but not another. Usually by the time they are 4’9″ (or 57″) they can fit properly in most vehicle’s seat belts.

Please understand that while the law in your state may allow for a child to ride with just the seat belt at a certain age (to learn what the car seat law is where you live, click on your state on this map) your child may not properly fit the seat belt at that age. Many children do not reach 4’9″ until they are maybe 10 or even 12 years old or older.

So why aren’t short adults required to use a booster seat? Short adults may be at higher risk of sustaining seat belt injuries than taller adults. However, their skeletal structure is more developed and stronger than a child’s.

It is best practice to wait until the child can pass the 5-step seat belt fit test because an ill-fitting adult seat belt can actually cause injury rather than prevent it in the event of a crash. You can read here about seat-belt syndrome, a common injury when the lap belt is resting on a child’s stomach instead of the child’s thighs and hips which it is likely to do without a belt positioner like a booster seat or a RideSafer vest.

By Greg Durocher, CEO at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Technician Instructor since 2002

Copyright 2019 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in July 2016. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

© amie durocher

2 comments

  1. My son is 10 and little for his age. He’s 4 ft. He hits all the 5 point safety except that his feet don’t hit the floor. Almost just not quite. He’s been asking to get rid of the booster.. my oldest was rid of it at 8 or 9 and he also wasn’t quite 4’9″… Just unsure what to do as I never thought I would have a 10 year old in a booster. I also have an 8 year old daughter about the same height as my son.. she’s been asking too because her taller,bigger friends don’t need one.

    1. Legally speaking, you would need to check your state law but most say children can move out of a booster at age 8 (or some states even younger). Now state car seat laws generally do not follow best practice. So safety wise, you would wait until they both can pass the 5-step seat belt fit test, all 5 steps. And remember it will vary based on the car and their seating position in it.

      I understand, our two older kids 5-stepped out at 9 1/2 and 10 years old. Our youngest is nearing 10 and is still a couple inches away from 5 stepping in one car. In my car, which says in the vehicle owner’s manual a child needs to be at least 5′ tall to not need a booster seat, he still has a way to go. He might be 12 before no booster in my car.

      Ultimately it comes down to a choice for every parent. I think how you frame it for the children will impact how they accept it or fight it. Our kids never asked to get out of the booster or RideSafer vest (one used a RideSafer until he 5 stepped, one used a RideSafer until she choose to use the Incognito for a bit even though she had technically 5 stepped too). They knew they had to be tall enough to properly fit and that was that regardless of what their friends were doing. (Same applied with sitting in the front seat — by age – so much so my soon to be 15 year old will still rarely sit in the front seat.)

      Keep at it mom, you’re doing great!

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