Your child needs to ride in a booster seat until the seat belt fits them correctly. This usually happens when a child is 4 feet 9 inches tall and between 8 and 12 years of age.
Twelve might seem old to you – and your state law might not require you wait that long. (Plus, your big kid may be whining that "none of their friends" still ride in a booster seat.) But if your child isn't tall enough for the seat belt to cross their body in the right places when they buckle up, it can be unsafe for them to ride without a booster.
A survey of 1,000 parents by Safe Kids Worldwide concluded that 9 in 10 parents moved their children out of their booster seats before the recommended time.
The best way to determine when your child is ready to stop sitting in a booster seat – and use only a seat belt in a car – is to use the 5-Step Test detailed below.
To learn about car seat laws where you live, visit the Saferide4KidsOpens a new window website.
Why does my child still need a booster seat?
Until the seat belt fits well, and your child can wear it properly, they need a booster seat to protect them in case of a car accident.
In an accident, an ill-fitting seat belt can actually cause injury instead of preventing it. For instance, if the lap belt rests on your child's tummy (which it's likely to do without a booster), they could suffer stomach, liver, or spleen damage in a collision. If the shoulder belt sits off the shoulder, it can slip off during a crash and reduce protection. And if the shoulder belt rests against your child's neck rather than their chest, it may cause neck injury.
It's also risky if your child plays around with the seatbelt, putting it under their arm or behind their back. In a crash, this could lead to damage to their ribs and internal organs or head, neck, or spinal injuries.
A seat belt is safer than no seat belt or booster. But children riding in a booster in the back seat are 45 percent less likely to be hurt in a crash than children buckled into a seat belt alone.
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How can I tell when my child can stop using a booster seat?
SafeRide4Kids created the 5-Step Test to help determine whether your child is ready to ride with a safety belt only (and whether the safety belt fits properly). To do the test, buckle your child into the back seat of your car without a booster seat and consider the following:
- Do they sit all the way back against the automobile seat, with their lower back against the seat? (They shouldn't slide forward to allow their legs to comfortably go over the edge of the seat.) A gap between their back and the seat will cause the seat belt to ride up onto their belly and also introduce slack in the seat belt.
- Do their knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat and their feet rest flat on the floor?
- Does the lap belt naturally rest below their belly, touching the tops of their thighs?
- Is the shoulder belt centered between their shoulder and neck?
- Can they stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answer no to any of these questions, your child still needs a booster seat. That's true even if your child has passed the height and age requirement for booster seats specified by your state law.
Your child may need a booster in one car but not in another, or in one row of a vehicle but not another. The third row often has a shorter seat than a middle row, for example – so your child's legs may be able to comfortably bend at the knee earlier in that seat.
If your child outgrows their current booster seat, replace it with one that has higher weight and height limits. Some booster seats accommodate up to 120 pounds. If they have a long torso, look for a booster seat that's designed to redirect the lap portion of the belt from the tummy to the tops of the thighs.
What if my child doesn't like their booster seat?
Be matter-of-fact about requiring a booster seat whenever your child rides in a car. No exceptions. If your child protests that they're too old to sit in a booster seat, here are some ideas to encourage them:
- Get a new seat. If your child's booster seat has seen better days, go shopping together and let them help choose a replacement.
- Highlight the positives. Point out that the booster seat makes the safety belt more comfortable. It also allows them to see out the window better.
- Emphasize safety. Tell your child it's your job to keep them safe. Make it clear that while certain things are negotiable during car rides, such as which music to listen to, safety is not.
Booster seat and seat belt safety tips
- Always have your child ride in the back seat if they're younger than 13, even if they no longer need a booster seat.
- Make sure any booster seat you use is installed correctly. Read the owner's manual and follow instructions. Check out these videos on how to install and use a backless booster and a high-back booster.
- Don't let your child tuck the shoulder belt under their arm or put it behind their back. If you brake suddenly or are involved in a crash, this could lead to severe injury.
- Never let anyone share a safety belt. It's not safe because in a crash the two occupants can strike one another, or one can crush the other. Everyone in the car must have their own car seat or safety belt.
- Don't use a seat belt adjuster or any product that didn't come with the booster seat. If your child is riding in the correct car seat for their size, they don't need any additional devices. These products may interfere with the correct fit of the seat belt. (If the booster came with a belt-positioning clip, use it if necessary to ensure the correct placement of the seat belt across your child's torso. Read the instruction manual for directions.)
- If your child is in a carpool, provide a booster for that car or see if the driver has extras.
- Secure the booster seat with a seat belt when it's not being used so it doesn't get thrown if you suddenly stop the car.
- Wear your seat belt, too, for your own safety and to set a good example for your child.
Learn more about booster seat safety.
What if I have only lap belts in the back seat?
You need both a shoulder belt and a lap belt to protect your child, whether they're in a booster seat or using only a safety belt. If a car has only lap belts:
- Find out if you can get shoulder belts installed.
- In the meantime, keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible (until they hit the height or weight limit), rather than moving them to a booster seat.
- Use a travel vest. These are designed for children age 2 and older and 22 to 168 pounds. They can travel from vehicle to vehicle but usually require the use of a top tether. Many older vehicles can have a tether anchor retrofitted. Toyota and Lexus have a tether installation program. For other companies, check with the manufacturer, email email@example.com, or call the Safe Ride Helpline at 800-745-SAFE.
If none of these options work, consider purchasing another car that has both shoulder and lap belts in the back.
- Car seat safety
- When your child can ride in a forward-facing car seat
- Using a car seat on a plane
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Children should stay in a booster seat until adult seat belts fit correctly, typically when children reach about 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years of age. Most children will not fit in a seat belt alone until 10 to 12 years of age.What are the height and weight requirements for a backless booster seat? ›
Here are some things that will help you determine whether your child is ready for a backless booster: Age: 5 to 6 years old. Weight: at least 40 pounds. Height: 38 to 43 inches.When can my child ride without a booster seat Florida? ›
Florida law allows a child to stop using a booster seat and begin using a seat belt when they turn six years old. For most kids, this is way too young. All safety experts agree that children should be at least 4'9” tall and at least eight years old before they begin using an adult seat belt.What is the difference between a booster seat and a child seat? ›
A booster seat is also forward-facing, but is usually slimmer than a forward-facing car seat and is used with an adult seatbelt rather than an inbuilt harness.Are backless booster seats safe? ›
Using backless boosters for your kid is still much safer than not putting him in a booster at all. There are also valid reasons why parents may prefer backless booster seats. They are usually more affordable than high-back boosters. They are also easier to transport and move from one car to another.Should my 7 year old be in a backless booster seat? ›
Backless booster seat requirements
Here are the general requirements for backless booster seats: Backless booster seat age requirements: From the time kids surpass the weight or height limits allowed by their car seat to about 8 to 12 years of age (depending on the child's size).
The AAP recommends that all children 12 and under sit in the back - so your child can sit up front when they turn thirteen – that's the common knowledge that many parents tend to follow. Seat belts fit properly when children reach a height of 4'9", so they can transition out of booster seats at this height.Does my 9 year old need a car seat in Florida? ›
Florida law requires the use of seat belts or child restraint devices by drivers of motor vehicles, all front seat passengers, and all children riding in a vehicle under 18. Florida law requires children age 5 and under to be secured properly in a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device.What are the booster seat laws in Florida 2023? ›
According to law, children of 4 to 5 years age requires booster seats. However, this is not recommended by child safety experts. Your child should be using the forward-facing seat at this age group. You can go through a federally approved child seat's manual to understand the safety and risk involved.Can a 10 year old sit in the front seat in Florida? ›
Front seats cannot be used by children under 13 years old, and rear seats are recommended for children under four years old and weighing less than 20 pounds.
A child should stay in a high-back booster until they reach the seat's high-back height or weight limits, or until the tops of their ears reach the top of the head restraint, and then move to a backless booster.What car seat should a 5 year old be in? ›
4 – 7 Years
Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat's manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it's time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat.
Children who are more than 4 years old but less than 8 years old, weigh more than 20 lbs but less than 65 lbs, and are less than 57 inches tall must ride in a properly secured booster seat or another federally approved child passenger restraint system.Should my 6 year old be in a backless booster seat? ›
While any child older than four can legally ride in a backless booster seat, safety experts are more conservative with their recommendations. Car seat experts recommend that children stay in high-back boosters for as long as possible, although older children can use backless seats up to 100 pounds.What is safer backless booster or booster with a back? ›
A high-back booster also provides head support that backless boosters do not. This is especially important if your vehicle doesn't have headrests in the rear seat, or if the headrests are not tall enough to protect your child's head when the booster is in place.Is a booster seat as safe as a car seat? ›
A booster seat provides a step between a car seat with a harness and a seat belt alone. It enables a safer and more comfortable fit of the adult seat belt. Make sure your child has outgrown the weight or height limits allowed in the forward-facing car seat.What weight can a child use a backless booster seat? ›
An average 40-pound child is typically closer to age five, a much safer age to consider making a transition to booster use. And many booster seats that can be used in both a highback and backless configuration have a higher minimum weight limit of 40 pounds when used in the backless mode.How tall do you have to be to be in the backless booster? ›
Ride in a booster until 4'9” tall or are at least 8 years old or weigh 80 pounds. Use a backless booster seat with lap and shoulder belt combination. The backless booster must be used with good head support behind the child. Children younger than age 13 always should ride in the back seat.When should I switch to a high back booster? ›
- Your child weighs at least 40 pounds.
- Your child is at least 4 years old.
- Your child will stay in the booster seat the entire car ride with the seat belt properly fitted across the shoulder and below the hips.
New Hampshire Child Occupant Protection Law
All children under age 7 or 57 inches (whichever is reached first) must use a properly fastened and secured child safety seat. Children under age 18 must be properly restrained in a motor vehicle including a car, pickup truck or SUV.