All 50 states have child safety seat laws that require young children to be harnessed into approved child safety seats when in the car until they reach a certain age or a specified height and weight. But what happens after they outgrow the harness? Regular seat belts in vehicles don't fit an older child properly and are uncomfortable to wear. Most states mandate booster seats for kids who have outgrown child safety seats. Using a booster seat lowers your child's risk of injury and is more comfortable than the vehicle belt system alone.
The seat belts that come installed in a car are designed to restrain an adult in case of a crash. Modern cars have a three-point system with a lap belt and a shoulder belt. In an adult, the lap belt crosses the hipbones or upper thighs, while the shoulder belt falls in the center of the shoulder and chest. The belts are made to adjust to a range of adult sizes, but a young child is far smaller than the smallest adult. The lap belt may hit a child's stomach, not his upper thighs, and the shoulder strap can pass over the child's neck, which is not only uncomfortable, but also unsafe.
You can help make your car's seat belts comfortable for children by using a booster seat. A booster seat raises the child's body so the belts fall in the right places. Most children need a booster seat until they are about 10 to 12 years old for their protection and comfort in the car. If you strap children into regular seats with a car's safety belts rather than using booster seats, they are twice as likely to suffer injuries should a crash occur.
Installing a booster seat
Install the booster seat in the back of the car to keep your children safe and comply with your state's child seat laws. You'll need a car that has a lap and shoulder belt in the back seat. If yours doesn't, either have the requisite belts installed or purchase harness-style car seats that fit your child. A booster seat does not provide any belts of its own. It simply positions the child so that the lap and shoulder belts in your car fit. Use of a lap belt without a shoulder belt means that the child's upper body can bend forward in a crash and hit other parts of the car. This may cause separation of the lumbar vertebrae and possibly even paralysis in severe crashes.
The type of booster seat you buy depends on standard seats in the car. Buy a backless booster seat if your car seats have high backs or head rests. Choose a high-back booster if your car doesn't have rear seat head rests. All boosters have belt guides or clips to position the seat belts appropriately across your child's chest and lap. Read the manufacturer's instructions carefully to be certain you have the belts correctly adjusted. These instructions may vary among makes and models of booster seats.