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State Car Seat Laws - Booster Seat Laws

Car Seat Question of the Week

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Updated April 09, 2014

Q. My pediatrician said that I should keep my five year old in a booster car seat, but the law here in Texas says that kids only have to ride in a car seat up until they are four years old. Who is right?

A. Texas actually updated their car seat laws in 2009 to make it mandatory for all children who have outgrown their forward-facing car seats to use a booster seat until they are at least 8 years old, unless they are already taller than 4'9".

Still, many state car seat laws are way behind the times in terms of safety. Florida, for example, doesn't require car seats for preschool age children. Simply following your state's car seat laws might not get you a ticket, but it won't be the best protection for your child if you are in a car accident.

Car Seat Laws

Since car seat laws and booster seat laws vary from state to state and most are still inadequate, you are much better off simply following the car seat guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and keeping your child who has outgrown his forward-facing car seat in a belt positioning booster seat until they are big enough to fit in regular seat belts. Keep in mind that, according to the AAP, this is usually not until a child has 'reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age.'

This is because younger children are 'generally too small for an adult seat belt. The lap belt rides up over the stomach and the shoulder belt cuts across the neck. In a crash, this can cause critical or even fatal injuries.'

To make it even easier, remember that seat belts don't fit properly until the lap belt lays across your child's upper thighs (not his stomach) and the shoulder belt fits across his chest (not his neck).

If you need some convincing about how important this is, consider that in 2001, there were 44,642 injuries from motor vehicle accidents for children three years old and younger, and that grows to 76,248 injuries for children four to eight years of age. Although injuries from motor vehicle accidents aren't tracked as to whether or not a child was wearing a car seat, it is likely that this increase in injuries for older children was because they are less likely to be in a proper child safety seat than a younger child.

Booster Seat Laws

Although state car seat laws have been getting better recently at keeping up with expert safety recommendations, three states, Arizona, Florida, and South Dakota, still don't have booster seat laws for kids who have outgrown car seats. And many of the states that do, have ages set well below what experts think is safe.

So whether you live in Florida, which only requires children up to age three to be in a car seat, or in Wyoming, where the limit is age eight, after your child outgrows his forward-facing car seat with harness straps, be sure to graduate to a belt positioning booster seat, instead of simply going to seat belts.

It can sometimes be hard to convince school age children about the importance of using a booster seat, especially if many of their friends are already just in seat belts. To help him get on board with using a booster it can help to be firm about his sitting in a booster seat and use it all of the time. Make using a booster seat one of the non-negotiable rules of your household and don't give it on the issue.

Other booster seat safety tips include:

  • don't refer to it as a car seat or baby seat and instead use the terms booster seat, big boy|girl seat, or just safety seat.
  • if your car's back seat has headrests, consider using a backless booster, which to many kids doesn't look like a 'real' car seat.
  • talk about the benefits of sitting in a booster, which besides safety include being able to look out the window, having cup holders, and being more comfortable with the arm rests, etc.


Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Child Passenger Safety. Pediatrics 2011;127:788-793.

NHTSA. Car Seat Recommendations for Children. Accessed March 2011.

Governors Highway Safety Association. Child Passenger Safety Laws. Accessed March 2011.

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