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Booster Seat Safety

Booster seats are vehicle safety seats for kids who have outgrown forward-facing or convertible car seats but are still too small to be properly restrained by a vehicle's seatbelts.

Booster seats lift kids up so that seatbelts lie across the strong bones of the chest and pelvis instead of the belly and neck, where they can do serious damage in a crash.

Many states have laws requiring booster seats for kids up to 8 years old and 80 pounds (36 kilograms), or 4 feet 9 inches (about 150 centimeters) tall.

Guidelines for Choosing a Booster Seat

Types of Booster Seats

Booster seats come in many styles. Belt-positioning boosters raise kids to a height where they can safely use the car's lap and shoulder belts. They come in high-back or backless models: High-back boosters are recommended when the car has low seat backs, and backless boosters may be used if a child's head is supported up to the top of the ears by the vehicle's back seat or head support.

Combination seats can be used with harnesses as forward-facing safety seats or as belt-positioning booster seats when harnesses are removed. Height and weight limits for different combination seats may vary, so it’s best to check the owner’s manual for guidance.

Shield boosters (with no back and a shield tray in front of the child) were originally designed for cars with lap-only belts, but they don't provide enough upper-body protection and so are not recommended.

If your car doesn't have shoulder belts in the back seat, consider having them installed by the dealer. If that's not possible, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping kids in a convertible or forward-facing seat with a full harness and a higher weight limit. Another option is a special type of travel vest that uses a tether and the lap belt to hold the child securely in the seat.

How to Install a Booster Seat

How to secure your child's seatbelt:

Kids this age can begin to understand the importance of buckling up and may want to buckle themselves in. Be sure to check their seatbelts and praise them when they voluntarily put them on.

When Kids Outgrow Booster Seats

Kids can stop using a booster seat when they're big enough to use the vehicle's lap and shoulder belts while sitting with their back against the vehicle's seat back with their knees bent over the edge of the seat without slouching. The lap belt should rest low, on top of the thighs, and the shoulder belt should lie comfortably across the middle of the chest.

Kids should be able to remain in this position throughout the entire trip. This usually happens when a child reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches (about 150 centimeters) and is between 8 and 12 years old.

Remember, the shoulder strap of the seatbelt should never be fastened behind a child's back or under his or her arm. And you should never buckle two kids (or an adult and a child) under one seatbelt — a crash could cause their heads to collide.

If you carpool or have other kids in your car, it's wise to have an extra booster seat handy, especially if you're unsure about whether a child meets the height requirements. It's always better to be safe than to let a child who isn't tall enough ride with just a seatbelt.

Air Bags and Kids

When combined with safety belts, air bags protect adults and teens from injury during a collision. They have saved lives and prevented many serious injuries. But young children can be injured or even killed if they are riding in the front passenger seat when an air bag opens.

Air bags were designed with adults in mind: They must open with great force (up to 200 miles per hour) to protect an average-sized, 165-pound (75-kilogram) male from injury. While this force is appropriate for adults and bigger kids, it can be dangerous for small kids, possibly resulting in head and neck injuries.

Protect kids from air-bag injury by following these rules:

Date reviewed: September 2014

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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