According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), children prematurely moved to seat belts are four times more likely to suffer serious head injuries during an accident than children in child safety or booster seats. Safety belts are designed for adults, and children under 4 feet 9 inches tall should ride with a booster seat.
Safety belts are not designed for children. Beginning at around age 4, many children are too large for toddler seats but too small for adult safety belts. A booster seat raises your child up so that the safety belt fits right - and can better protect your child. The shoulder belt should cross the child's chest and rest snugly on the shoulder, and the lap belt should rest low across the pelvis or hip area - never across the stomach area.
When Do You Use a Booster Seat?
- REAR FACING SEATS in the back seat from birth to at least 1 year old and at least 20 pounds.
- FORWARD-FACING TODDLER SEATS in the back seat from age 1 and 20 pounds to about age 4 and 40 pounds.
- BOOSTER SEATS in the back seat from about age 4 to at least age 8, unless 4'9" tall.
- SAFETY BELTS at age 8 and older or taller than 4'9". All children age 12 and under should ride in the back seat.
Types of Booster Seats
HIGH-BACK BELT-POSITIONING BOOSTER SEATS
Two types of high-back belt-positioning booster seats are available. Both types "boost" your child up so the vehicle safety belt fits better.
1. One type provides head and neck support for your child if your vehicle seat back does not have a head rest. It must be used with the vehicle's lap/shoulder belt, never with the lap belt only.
2. The other, a combination seat, converts from a forward-facing toddler seat to a booster seat and comes equipped with a harness. This type can be used as a forward-facing toddler seat when your child is age 1 and at least 20 pounds to about age 4 and 40 pounds. When your child outgrows the toddler seat, remove the harness and use the seat as a booster seat with the vehicle's lap/shoulder belt.
NO-BACK BELT-POSITIONING BOOSTER SEAT
3. This type also "boosts" your child up so the vehicle safety belt fits better. This booster seat is used with a lap/shoulder belt. It should only be used in vehicles with built-in head rests.
- The shoulder belt should never be placed behind a child's back or under the arm. If this is done, your child could be seriously injured or killed in a crash.
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- Because many State laws only require children to be in a safety seat up to age 4 or so, many parents assume older kids are safe in just an adult safety belt. However, all children need to be restrained correctly whenever they ride in a motor vehicle - every trip, every time.
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- Booster seats are sold at toy stores, department stores, and other retail outlets.
September 21-27 is Child Passenger Safety Seat Week.
Need help with your booster seat?
Visit a child safety seat inspection station near you.
To find one, go to