“Can I put my child in a booster seat?”
The short answer is “It depends.”
First of all, you must confirm that your child meets the minimum
weight, height, and age requirement for the booster seat. The label and
instructions of the booster seat will list weight ranges, height ranges,
and sometimes the lowest age for a child to use the seat. The booster
seat manufacturer may determine that a child who is younger than four
years old can not be secured safely by that product.
More importantly, a child’s behavior and developmental readiness
should be considered before moving him/her into a booster seat. Even the
best behaved child can become a wiggle-worm, sleep-slumper, or toy
picker-upper once she is restrained by a lap/shoulder seat belt instead
of a car seat harness system.
Which leads to the next question:
“Should I put my child in a booster seat?”
Parents and care providers should not be in a rush to “graduate” a
child from a harnessed car seat into a booster seat. The purpose of a
harness system is to hold the child upright and in place against the car
seat shell, with the straps correctly positioned over the body so that
the child is held safely in the restraint during emergency braking or a
collision. In other words, it’s a “child-sized” restraint.
The purpose of a booster seat is pre-crash positioning. That is, it
is designed to physically raise a “child-sized” body up into the
“adult-sized” seat belt so that it correctly fits by aligning the seat
belt over the child’s hips/upper thigh area and centering it on the
chest, resting on the collarbone. But note the fact that it does not
stay tight on the child at all times. It is possible (and likely) that a
child will discover that s/he has new-found freedom in a booster seat!
Suddenly, s/he can buckle and unbuckle the seat belt, lean forward to
pick-up something s/he dropped, shift to the side so the shoulder belt
no longer contacts the body, or grab the belt and introduce slack. For
children who fall asleep in the car, they can slowly slump forward or
lean to the side and change the protection offered by the seat belt.
Many young, curious, or active children learn to unbuckle the seat belt
allowing them to move around in the car, reach the door handles, or
crawl into the front seat to “help” the driver!
The bottom line? Even when a child meets the height, weight, and age
limits of using a booster seat, parents might need to consider a car
seat with a harness which can accommodate a taller or heavier child.
Luckily, there are more options than ever for restraint systems
(including car seats, special needs products, and vests) which allow
children weighing more than 40 pounds to use a harness system vs. a booster seat.
201 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-2399
(410) 767-6500 or 1-877-463-3464