Older Children Need Car Seats, Too

Once children outgrow forward-facing child safety seats, it can be difficult for parents to determine when their child no longer needs a child safety seat. Unfortunately, many people think once children reach 40 pounds, they no longer require a child safety seat. Many resources mention the importance of using a booster seat but provide limited information about older children and the need for them to use a booster. Therefore, parents must be careful and understand the dangers associated with not using a booster.

Once children outgrow the internal harness of a forward-facing child safety seat, they are not yet ready for a lap/shoulder belt. They shoulder belt does not fit properly across their chest and the lap belt does not fit low across their hips/upper thighs. Because of their height limitation, the shoulder belt usually ends up across their neck and the lap portion of the belt rides up on their abdomen. In a crash, that seat belt may become deadly – causing injuries to the neck and spine, internal organs, possible strangulation, and even death. This is why using a booster seat is so important.

Following are a few tips for child passenger safety for children between the ages of four and eight that weigh between 40 and 80 (or more) pounds. Children should use booster seats until they reach the upper weight limit of the seat and the lap/shoulder best fits them properly.

  • Always restrain the child.
  • Never use a child safety seat with the shield or 5-point harness after the child reaches 40 pounds unless the seat is rated to higher weight limits. In an impact, the child's weight may cause the straps, latches, or shield to break and will not protect the child.
  • Always use a lap/shoulder belt with booster seats.
  • Never let the child ride in the front seat, especially if you have air bags. If the air bag deploys, the impact is powerful enough to break a child's neck and it also could cause suffocation.
  • Two types of booster seats are available: a high-back seat or a backless booster. Use a high-back booster if the child's head is below the top of the back of the seat. If any part of the child's head is higher than the back of the seat, you can use a backless booster.

Correct Installation is the Key

Since you value your child's safety, become an expert at installing your car seat correctly – a task that is harder than it sounds. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 80 percent of child seats are installed incorrectly.

The following are the most common mistakes people make with car seats:

  • Threading seat belts through the wrong slots.
  • Not using a locking clip when one is required.
  • Failing to buckle in the child.
  • Installing the seat too loosely. A correctly installed seat will not move more than an inch forward or to either side when tested at the belt path.

To ensure proper installation, read the car seat manual and your vehicle manual. This will help you understand the mechanics of installing the seat. If the information is unclear, call the car seat manufacturer, vehicle manufacturer or both. Certified technicians are available nationwide to assist with installation guidance.

Contact your local AAA club for assistance or visit www.safekids.org for a complete listing of certified child passenger safety technicians.