Somewhere along the way our kids grow up — usually too fast, right?! (I was just looking at side-by-side pictures of my daughter, age two and age twelve.) It seems like in no time they’ve gone from a rear-facing infant seat to a forward-facing seat that they’re now on the verge of growing out of.
When does this happen?
Depending on the child, the child’s size, the parent and the size of the car seat, this could happen any where from 4 years old to, well, 6 or even older before they move to the next “stage” of car seat.
Most state laws only require keeping children in a restraint like a booster seat until they are 8 (read about your state car seat law here). I don’t know why. Most 8-year-olds don’t fit properly in an adult seat belt. (See the 5-step seat belt fit test.)
For their safety, children need to stay in some sort of restraint until they properly fit the adult seat belt which is usually when they are 4’9″ (yup, 57 inches). Yes, that means some kids won’t fit until they are 12 years old, perhaps even older.
It really is more about height and fit than it is about age or weight. And children will fit properly in different cars at different times depending on the design of the seat and seat belt. (Again see the seat belt fit test.)
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
What comes after the forward-facing car seat? Well, as far as I know, there are two choices for the belt positioning age, a booster seat or the RideSafer travel vest. Manufacturers now rate booster seats for children starting at 4 years old and 40 pounds. The RideSafer travel vest is crash tested for children starting at 3 years old and 30 pounds.
Children younger than 4 should never be put in a booster seat. A 5-point harness is safer. Many parents choose to keep their children in a 5-point harness seat much past the age of 4. The RideSafer is crash tested according to FMVSS 213 criteria for a harness child restraint system and crash tests at least as well as 5-point harness seats for children 3 and older (we actually post our test results, you can see them here).
If you are using a booster seat, it’s really important to only use it with a lap-shoulder seat belt, to make sure the lap portion is across the hips and to make sure the child keeps the shoulder portion going across their shoulder/chest (not under their arm or behind their back). The RideSafer will correctly position the shoulder portion of the seat belt comfortably off the neck of the child. And you can use RideSafer with a lap-only belt if there is a tether anchor point to attach a tether strap.
As your children get older you may notice others pressuring you to ditch the booster seat. This pressure could even come from your own children. After all some of their friends are not using any sort of child restraint any more whether they are tall enough to fit a seat belt or not.
The best way to respond is to inform. Explain to your children, or other naysayers, that you love your children and you want to keep them safe in one of the most dangerous activities they do every day. After all there are enough other dangers out there that you don’t have any control over. Children are at least 45% safer in the car if they are restrained using a booster or RideSafer to help the adult seat belt fit them.
Naysayer in the Carpool
Tell others who transport your children it is a MUST for your child to use a restraint. Have a RideSafer or booster handy for the child to take with them when they get into someone else’s car. Your child can be your best ally for this if they understand why. With a little training older children can easily put on their own vest or put their own booster seat in a car and get buckled up.
Sometimes the carpool happens in your car. If other children don’t use a restraint in their car, their parents may not provide one for you to use. You have to go with your conscience. If you feel strongly about having all children properly restrained, you’ll have to explain to the other parent(s) and child(ren) that every child in your car must use a restraint until they are 4’9″. (Know where that is on your body so you can do a quick measure up.) You may have to supply a restraint for that child if they no longer normally use one. (Pssst, the RideSafer takes up less room in your car when not being used.)
No child rides in our car without a restraint; we keep a couple extra vests around to accommodate carpooling.
We want to hear from you. Do you have a rule about all kids being properly restrained based on best practice or your state’s law? Or if you let it slide while carpooling.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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 June 2014. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.