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Is my child ready for a booster seat?

By Beth Gibson on December 1, 2020

Have you noticed that your child has outgrown most of his clothes and shoes lately? Or perhaps she has trouble fitting into her car seat?

Depending on your child’s height, weight, and age, it may be time to upgrade to a booster seat.

“But why not just use a seat belt?” you may ask. Or you may wonder, “Can’t my child’s current car seat still do the job?”

We at GibsonSingleton are here to answer those questions and more – and to make sure your child enjoys a safe ride in the car, whether you’re going on a long road trip for the holidays or just running a few errands close to home.

Why does my child need a booster seat?

Just as car seats were designed to keep children safe on the road, booster seats also minimize their risk of injury during an accident.

Booster seats effectively increase a child’s height so he can fit snuggly into a seatbelt and remain secured in the backseat. Without a booster seat, the seatbelt cannot hold most children in place, meaning they could be seriously injured during a collision.

Sadly, children are at the highest risk when they are not properly secured. Yet many parents do not realize how important boosters and seatbelts working together are. Tragically, 35% of children who died in auto accidents in a recent year were not even wearing seatbelts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Further, incorrectly installing a booster seat can lead to even more serious injuries. Another study by the CDC showed that 20% of booster seats are not properly secured, which can increase, not decrease, the risk of serious injury.

Bottom line: using a booster seat and seatbelt properly could be the difference between life and death for your child during a wreck.

When is my child big enough or old enough to use a booster seat?

Most children’s bodies are not large enough to benefit from a seatbelt. If a child is not heavy or tall enough, the seatbelt will not keep her safe during a collision. That’s why car seats and booster seats offer extra safety measures. While car seats use harnesses to hold a child in place, a booster seat effectively increases your child’s height.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides specific criteria about choosing the right car seat for your child and checking your car seat’s weight and height requirements regularly to see if your child has outgrown it. Generally speaking, a child could reach the recommended height and weight for a booster seat as early as 4 or as late as  12, according to the NHTSA’s car seat guidelines. That’s why it’s important to check your seat’s guidelines, along with your child’s height and weight regularly.

Helpful hint No. 1: The recommended height and weight for your child’s seat can often be found in a small label sewn onto the car seat. Or if not, and you no longer have the car seat instruction manual, simply Google the seat’s brand name, and you can easily find the instructions and recommended height and weight for your exact model.

Helpful hint No. 2: When your child goes to the doctor for his annual check-up, make a note of his weight and height then, and check your seat requirements following the appointment. Finally, put a note on your calendar to check both again in six months, especially if your child is getting close to exceeding the recommendations.

What are two more important points to remember for keeping my older child safe?

  1. In Virginia, all children under the age of 13 are required to sit in the backseat, whether they are in a booster seat or seat belt, according to Virginia Code (§46.2-1095).
  2. The NHTSA recommends that you use a booster seat until your child can fit securely in a seatbelt alone. Besides reading the guidelines on your car seat, how else can you know?

Your child might need a booster seat if:

  • The lower strap of the seat belt rests on your child’s stomach instead of his upper thighs.
  • The shoulder strap rests on your child’s face or neck instead of her shoulder.

How do I choose the right booster seat?

If you are unsure of which type of booster to buy, you can also check the NHTSA’s Car Seat Finder. This sit includes information about the best booster seats on the market. To find the right option for your child, just enter your child’s age, height, and weight into the Car Seat Finder, and it will give you a list of recommendations.

What are the options in booster seats?

Typically, when shopping for a booster seat, you’ll find four options:

  • Backless Booster Seat: These booster seats are designed for cars with headrests and do not have neck or head support.
  • High Back Booster Seats: These booster seats can provide neck and back support and work well with cars that do not have headrests.

In addition, if you already own a combination or all-in-one car seat, you may be able to adjust it into a booster. You can find information about how to convert your car seat into a booster seat in your car seat’s instruction manual.

How do I install a booster seat effectively?

Like car seats, booster seats are supposed to fit securely on your vehicle’s seats. Sadly, not installing a booster seat correctly puts your child at risk during a wreck. So, carefully follow the booster seat’s instructions and your vehicle’s manual to make sure your booster is correctly installed in the backseat.

The good news is that using a booster seat is usually much easier than installing a car seat. Generally, you don’t have to secure the booster seat to your backseat with the lower anchors or tether, although the instructions can vary, depending on the booster.  Instead, installing a booster seat, whether it is a high back or backless seat, is usually as simple as following four steps:

  1. Place the booster seat on top of your car’s back seat.
  2. Have your child sit on the booster seat.
  3. Secure the seatbelt against your child’s body, and buckle it in place.
  4. Make sure the lap belt sits over your child’s upper thigh and the shoulder strap is secure against his shoulder.

If you are using a combination or all-in-one seat as a booster seat, simply remove the seat’s harness and follow the instructions above. Your car’s seatbelt should loop easily over your child and the car seat.

Last chance to win a new car seat!

We are nearing the end of our “Car Seats for Kids” giveaway campaign, but don’t worry: we at GibsonSingleton will continue providing safety tips for parents and caregivers through the end of 2020 and beyond! Our team is dedicated to keeping Virginia’s children safe and helping everyone learn more about avoiding injuries.

We are offering one last chance to win a new car seat or booster seat. Whether you’re expecting a child, already have one, or know someone who does, you can enter. The winner can be an infant, toddler, preschooler, or elementary-aged child.

So visit our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GibsonSingleton, and nominate yourself or someone you love.  At the end of December, we will select the final winner of our “Car Seats for Kids” giveaway.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me, Beth Gibson, at [email protected] or (804) 413-6777.

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