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From Booster to Belt: When Is Your Child Ready to Transition to Just a Seat Belt

For most of our lives growing up, children went from car seats straight to sitting in the front seat with a seat belt. Of course, over the years, we have learned a thing or two about safety that has changed our ways. When airbags became widely installed in vehicles, the back seat took over as the preferred spot for children and car seats. As car seat technology has changed, different car seats have been developed for every stage of a child’s development.

One of the newest additions to the car seat roster has been the booster seat. While one of the least talked about versions of the car seat, it has also performed one of the most important roles, bridging the important gap between forward-facing car seats and sitting in the car using just a seat belt as an adult would.

What Makes Booster Seats So Great?

Before booster seats, there was no middle ground between car seats and seat belts. A child simply went from being strapped into their extra-protective, fighter-jet style safety harness to sitting in a regular seat that was too large with an uncomfortable seat belt. You probably remember “the good old days” of putting the shoulder belt behind your back so that you could get relief from it pressing on your neck and face—most of us did the exact same thing as kids.

The problem is that seat belts are designed for full-sized adults, not small children. Seat belts are made to exert the most pressure on the strongest parts of our bodies, our sternum and our pelvis. When children transition directly from a car seat, they are so small that seat belts usually cross them at the stomach and neck or face, which can cause serious injury in an accident.

The booster seat moves the child into a position that allows the seat belt to cross them at their sternum and upper thighs or pelvis. When they start to become tall enough that the seat belt looks correct without the booster seat, it may be time to transition away from the booster and into the big leagues.

Is Your Child Ready for Just a Seat Belt?

In the car you drive most often with your child, have them sit in the back seat and buckle their seatbelt. Then look at the following guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  • Are they able to sit with their back against the seat while their knees bend over the edge of the seat?
  • Are their feet flat on the floor?
  • Does the seat belt cross the child’s upper thighs, pelvis, and chest?

If you can answer “yes” to all of the questions, your child is ready to transition to a regular seat in that particular car. Other cars may be sized differently, however, so always have the booster seat at the ready, and remember—the back seat is always the safest place for children.

If you found this article helpful, share it with your fellow parents on social media to help spread awareness about keeping your tweens safe and sound!