While most parents comply with car seat regulations for infants and toddlers, fewer use booster seats properly for older children. The percentage of children up to age 13 restrained in boosters has increased, as more states enact laws mandating their use for older children. State regulations differ; if your state has lenient laws, it is safer to follow the recommendations from states with more stringent requirements for child safety. Every state except Florida and South Dakota has booster seat laws, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Commission.
1. Ages For Use
You cannot put an infant in an infant seat and you should not put a toddler in one, either, even if he meets the weight requirements. In many states, including Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee, children under age 4 cannot ride in boosters; instead, they must ride in approved child restraint seats. Some states say only that children under age 7 must be in an approved child restraint without specifying the type of seat that parents should use. Children under age 4 cannot sit safely in a booster, which allows them to lean forward or to the side, the CarSeat.org website states. Many state laws mandate that children up to age 8 or older ride in boosters.
2. Weight Limits
Some states -- as well as some booster seat manufacturer -- use weight as a determining factor for putting a child in a booster seat. The weight most commonly used as a minimum for booster seat use is 40 pounds. A number of states also require that children remain in boosters until they reach a certain weight limit; in Alaska and Mississippi, the limit is 65 pounds; in Delaware, a child must remain in a booster until he reaches 66 pounds. Arkansas, Connecticut and Louisiana set a 60-pound limit. Kansas, Missouri, North and South Carolina, Rhode Island and Wisconsin keep children in boosters until they weigh 80 pounds.
3. Height Limits
In some states, such as children must ride in a booster until they reach a certain height. While Kentucky sets the minimum height to ride in a seat belt at 50 inches and others, such as New Hampshire, set the height limit at 55 inches, many, including California, Maine, Tennessee and Oregon, among others, use 57 inches, or 4 feet, 9 inches as the minimum for riding without a booster. This is also the guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics, as stated on the HealthyChildren.org website, the official website from the AAP. Some states, such as Kentucky, as well as some booster seat manufacturers list a minimum height, such as 40 inches, for booster use. A child has outgrown his booster when his ears are at the top seat level or if his shoulders are above the top harness slots, according to the AAP.
It is always safest to keep children in the back seat of a vehicle, whether they are in a car seat, booster or seat belt. Many states have regulations that children must sit in the back seat unless extenuating circumstances exist, such as no seat belts in the back or the absence of a back seat. All children up to age 13 should ride in the back seat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
- Governors Highway Safety Association: Child Passenger Safety Laws
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Car Seats: Information for Families for 2013
- CarSeat.org: Boosters Are For Big Kids
- National Highway Traffic Administration: The 2011 National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Child Passenger Safety
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