When is my child ready for a booster seat??

Jul 21, 2008

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The Bottom Line Boosters are great for kids who are ready and need to use them, but don't hurry to make the switch.

*Disclaimer* - advice is not only taken, it is desired... feel free to leave thorough comments on anything that I could do to make this more informative for you so you can make the best decisions for your family.

As children reach the age of 2yrs and up, the question rises with parents about when their children can move to a booster seat. The reason can be a new baby in the family needing to move from the infant seat to the older sibling's seat, the child outgrowing their convertible carseat, or because the parent is just curious, because some of the child's friends are now riding in boosters.

The first thing I would remind parents of is that EVERY step UP in carseats is a step DOWN in safety. When we turn our children from rear to forward facing, we are lessening their protection. When we change them from a 5-point (or even Overhead Sheild) carseat to a belt positioning booster, we are lessening their safety.

It is perhaps more easy to understand why this is when it comes to forward facing children simply by considering the harness and the seatbelt. Most carseats have a 5-point harness. Others have an overhead shield (less desireable, but still better than a seatbelt). what this means is that your child is protected over 5 points to help distribute crash forces. Two are the shoulders, two are the hips, and one is at the crotch. If your child uses an overhead shield seat, two are at the shoulder and one is at the crotch, and then the shield compensates for the points at the hips.

When a child goes into a booster seat, they are now protected by only three points of protection. One at one shoulder, two at the hips. Not only that, but, because of the lack of a crotch strap, smaller riders could submarine out. What this means is that they could literally be thrown out, feet first, under the lap belt. So this is why even a 3-point harness (no longer made, but was a design in some of the first harnessed seats) would offer some better protection.

This video shows how, in a crash, a booster performs compared to a seat with a 5-point harness. http://www.oeamtc.at/netautor/html_seiten/kisitest_2002/videos/test2002/frontcrash/maxicosirodi.mpg

Now, at some point, though, children do need booster seats. The simple fact is that children can't be harnessed forever and a booster helps the seatbelt fit properly. So, how do you know when your child can make the switch?

The first step is being big enough. A child needs to fit the weight and height minimums on the seat. However, those minimums are just that... the MINIMUM. Ideally, we don't want our children to just get the minimum protection, but, sometimes, kids are built in a way that they outgrown one step while only at the minimum for another. Some booster seats start at 30lbs, 38", and 3yrs old. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be in harnessed carseats as long as possible and not before 4yrs, 40lbs, and 40", so that is always something to consider.

Furthermore, as research has continued, we have not only seen testing reveal what is safer, but we've also had horrible results in automobile accidents.

One child who suffered such a horrible result was named Belle. Her mother has made it her mission to let people know that children under 5 are at the risk for the injuries that caused her daughter's death. Children under 5 are at risk for abdominal injury from the lapbelt that can cause death, even in a minor crash, such as what Belle was in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2LFo8vVi04

Kyle David Miller was another such child who was in a booster too soon and died too young. His mother has taken this lesson and become an advocate of harnessing children longer. The foundation created in Kyle's name helps children of parents who can't afford to buy a seat that harnesses past 40lbs get the seat or seats they need. http://www.kyledavidmiller.org The link also contains all the tragic information about why he died.

Just by studying the spine, it is now known that the spine does not fully harden until age 6. It does not even begin to do this until age 3. This greatly affects how much the spine can withstand in a crash and is why the consenus is then drawn that a child should remain harnessed until at least age 6. Obviously, longer would be better.

This link is for a post on a message board made by an archaeology student, which contains photos of the human spine at ages 1 and 6. The pictures are of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertabrae. http://windsorpeak.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=180970

Even while we may not understand all these reasons, there is another crucial part to putting a child in a booster seat. When you move a child into one, you are no longer controlling his safety. You are giving the control to him. In doing this, the question would be: Is the child mature enough? Most children under age 5-7 and even more under age 4 are simply not that mature. They will wiggle, fidget, not sit still in their seats. They will reach for a dropped toy, they will put the shoulderbelt under their arm or behind their back. In short, if they can't be trusted to sit correctly in a booster, this can endanger their little lives. But what parents often don't think of is the further risk by it causing a disturbance to the driver and other passengers. The driver needs to be able to keep his/her eyes on the road. This is hard to do when trying to reprimand a wiggly toddler in a booster seat.

So, what is to be done? There are now, fortunately, seats on the market that do harness over 40lbs. You can find information on them at http://www.carseatsite.com as well as http://www.car-seat.org They range in prices from under 100 dollars to 500 dollars and some are convertible carseats, so can be gotten right after the infant seat to avoid having to buy three different harnessed seats.


Now, when a child is old enough, mature enough, big enough, and has outgrown his/her harnessed seat, the question then becomes a new one. What booster seat is right for my child?

There are lots of boosters on the market and all have to pass the same safety standards. However, some have backs, others don't. Some have backs, but the backs are not reinforced. When purchasing a booster, make sure whatever you choose fits your vehicle, fits your child, and that you and your child will use it properly every time.


Lap-only belts

In the world of booster seats, one rule is clear. The seat must be used with a lap AND shoulder belt. In older cars where there are no shoulderbelt, or in a seating position of cars that have a lap-only belt in the center, this can be a problem. There are products on the market for this issue. http://www.ezonpro.com


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About Me: Mom of 2 boys - 12yrs and 11yrs old, and 1 girl - 8yrs old