Car Booster Seats
Car Booster Seats
Stephanie Tombrello (Child Passenger Safety Educator & Executive Director, SafetyBeltSafe USA) gives expert video advice on: What are the different styles of booster seats available?; What type of car booster seat should I buy?; How can my child travel safely if he refuses a car booster seat? and more...
What is a "car booster seat"?
A safety booster seat is a product that's crash-tested and designed to position a child properly in the shoulder-lap belt. It's really meant for children who are at least four years of age, although sometimes a tall, thin three-year old will have to use a car booster seat because a parent doesn't have a safety seat with high enough strap slots. But primarily, a car booster seat is for a child who's at least four and does not fit properly in the shoulder-lap belt in the vehicle. A booster seat allows the parent to place the shoulder and lap belt on the proper places on the child's body.
What are the different styles of booster seats available?
Safety booster seats come in three styles. The first is a kind that has no back at all; it simply positions the child in the shoulder lap belt. The good thing about that is that if you have a vehicle seat with a high back or a head rest, the child sits well back against that and has the safety belt properly positioned. The second type of safety booster has a high back. That seat may come just as a booster with a rigid back, or even a pliable back, but the back is permanently attached to the base. It may be part of a combination seat where the safety harness is used up to a certain number of pounds (usually forty pounds), and then that harness is removed and the seat converts into a booster seat. The third style of booster seat is one that has a removable back; you have the back to use when you want. If your child is going on a play date and can't take the whole seat, or if you're travelling on an aeroplane and you want to make sure that the base of the booster doesn't get lost in baggage, you can take the base onto the plane in a carry-on and pack the back in your luggage so you have the choice of whether you use the back or not. Clearly, we think the third type is the most flexible for parental use.
What type of car booster seat should I buy?
The type of booster seat that you will choose has to do with your child, your vehicle, and your lifestyle. If your child is young a booster seat with a back helps because the child can rest his-or-her head against the sides, and sometimes that actually helps keep the child properly positioned. But if you have high back vehicle seats, you may find that a booster seat with just a base works just fine for your child. We recommend in general, that people lock the shoulder lap belt onto the child so that it is in the proper position. Most booster seats also have what's called a comfort clip, or an attachment to adjust the angle of the shoulder belt. Be sure that you always keep the shoulder belt between the neck and the top of the arm. If the comfort clip leads to pulling the shoulder belt into the wrong position, do not use it. The other factor is: what do you do? Do you travel a lot with your child so that you need to have a booster seat where the back comes off; so you can take the base of the booster seat with you so it doesn't get lost, or can you send it with your child in a backpack for play dates. People live different kinds of lives. There are also booster seats that fold in half so you can carry them comfortably, but you have the back always with you. We have a wide range of products. There's a new booster seat that comes with a full five point harness; it can only be used where you can tether it, because it's more like a harness. It's very flexible. It's very light. It converts into a booster with a shoulder lap belt at sixty pounds. So, there are a wide range of products, and you should choose the one that is best for your child, your vehicle, and your lifestyle.
At what age can my child use a car booster seat?
Safety booster seats are really meant to be used by children who have fully outgrown a safety seat with a full harness, so if you choose one that has a harness that goes to, for example, sixty or eighty pounds, you would then use the booster seat later if the child still did not fit into the safety belt properly. For most people, booster seats are used at about age four if the child weighs over forty pounds. That weight is related to the other products that they might be using and their level of certification for the harness system; not because a weight has anything to do with needing to use a booster seat. The fit of the belt is the issue, and the age of a child. We do not recommend using a booster for a child who is under three. There are some three- to four-year-olds who move into booster seats because, although they're under forty pounds, the strap slots in their seat with a full harness are now below their shoulders. They've outgrown that product, and the parent has not been able to (or has not chosen to) find a seat with a harness that is higher than their shoulder level. So, then for the three- to four-year-olds it is a kind of grey area; a parental choice area, as to whether to use a booster seat or not.
Will my shoulder lap belt hurt my child while he is in his booster seat?
Most parents are worried about the shoulder belt rubbing against the child's neck when they are in their booster seat. Actually the part of the belt that hurts the child when in their booster seat is not the shoulder belt, but the lap belt. Children don't have the hip bones fully developed until they're 10 years of age. It's hard for them to keep the lap belt down low on their thighs when in the booster seat. What the booster seat does is put the child at a different angle in relation to the lap belt so that it is on the tops of the thighs. So that's the way you want to put them in a booster seat.
How can my child travel safely if he refuses a car booster seat?
A child who refuses to sit in a safety booster seat, yet needs a safety booster seat, should just not be going in the car. The other alternative to a safety booster seat might be to obtain a travel vest. There are several styles of travel vest, or even a seat with the harness system that goes beyond the childs poundage. But one way or another, the child can only sit in the if car properly restrained, and in many states that's the law. In some states that's even the law for every occupant.
At what age can a child travel in a vehicle without a car booster seat?
Of course every state has a different law concerning this, but the purpose of traveling in a booster seat is to fit the safety belt, with the shoulder-lap belt in the vehicle sitting comfortably on the child's body. Therefore this is a two variable problem. In other words, one variable is the child, but the other variable is the car. So the only way to know if a child has grown out of their booster seat is to use the five-step test. Have the child sit in the vehicle with his or her back firmly against the vehicle seat back. While sitting that way, the child must also be able to bend his or her knees over the front of the vehicle seat. The shoulder belt must rest comfortably between the neck and the top of the arm. The lap belt must fit on the tops of the thighs, not up on the abdomen. And the child must be able to sit in that position for the entire trip, regardless of how long it is.