It seems like we just transitioned my daughter into a booster seat from her forward-facing car seat; but it’s been two years. She’s now six years old, in kindergarten, and rides the bus to school. About once a week she asks me if I’m sure she still needs to sit in her booster seat. The question usually arises on the days I pick her up at school or if she is having a friend over. She told me one day, as I was buckling her in, “Mom, some parents don’t worry as much as you do about being safe. Do you know that?” I asked her what she meant and she gave me a list of names of kids in her class who apparently do not use booster seats. I’ve seen these kids – they’re not taller than my daughter – and they should be in a booster.
Did you know that current MA law states: “A passenger in a motor vehicle on any way who is under the age of 8 shall be fastened and secured by a child passenger restraint, unless such passenger measures more than 57 inches in height. The child passenger restraint shall be properly fastened and secured according to the manufacturer’s instructions.”
What this means is that once your child has outgrown their forward-facing convertible (usually around age 4 or 5, but do utilize that car seat as long as you can – until your child reaches the height and weight limit) when they are 4’9’’, they should be in a booster seat. Yes, 4’9”! Most kids reach this height somewhere between the ages of 8 and 12 years old. Another way to remember this is with this simple rule: if when they are sitting in the car, their feet can’t touch the floor, they are much safer in a booster seat.
The height requirement is to ensure that the vehicle’s lap-and-shoulder seat belts fit properly so that in the event of an accident, your child will be restrained. If the seat belt doesn’t fit tight enough, a child can be thrown from the seat (or even worse, from the car) during a collision. This is important information, because sadly motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among 4-8 year-olds and we know that booster seat use lowers the risk of injury to children in crashes by about half. We also know, unfortunately, that about half the children who should be in booster seats aren’t (according to a 2009 National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats).
Last month I attended a meeting for the Massachusetts Prevents Injuries Now Network (MassPinn), at which Dr. Lois Lee from Boston Children’s Hospital shared her findings from a recent study. She and her fellow researchers examined the different booster seat laws in the 50 states and in D.C. from 1999-2009. They found that in States where booster seat laws were implemented, there was a drop in serious injuries from motor vehicle crashes among children ages 4 to 8. There are three states without booster seat laws (Florida, Arizona and South Dakota) and those states unfortunately did not see a change. In the other 47 states and in DC, although less children were injured through motor vehicle accidents, there is a discrepancy based on age and this is because in some states booster seats are required only until age 5. What Dr. Lee et al, found is that only 35% of 6-7 year olds are using booster seats. I am proud to say that my daughter is part of that 35%!
But what about the other 65%? Do you know someone who doesn’t use a booster seat for his child and should? Unfortunately, I do. We have a relative who not only doesn’t have her 7- year old ride in a booster seat, but she also lets her ride in the front seat. It makes me cringe every time I see it happening. This relative has told me that she thinks booster seats are a waste of money. My daughter had a play-date with a friend a few weeks ago and I picked both of them up at school. When I was making the arrangements with her mother, I told her I have an extra booster seat that her daughter could use in my car. The mother’s response was, “Oh, don’t worry about that! She doesn’t sit in a booster seat anymore.” (She DID when she was in my car!) A study published in 2012 looked at carpooling and it shows that booster-seat usage in this situation is inconsistent and needs improvement.
I’ve heard from some parents they didn’t want to buy yet another seat, so after their child outgrew the car seat they decided it was okay to use just the seat belt. I’ve learned from local Child Passenger Safety Technicians that even when boosters are used, they’re often used incorrectly. So there is a lot of work for those of us in the world of Safety to do around booster seat education.
It’s likely that for many of you reading this, your little one is still in his infant-seat. It can feel as if the topic of booster seats is one you don’t need to consider quite yet. But if you’re thinking about buying the next car seat, a convertible, I recommend getting one that can eventually convert into a booster seat as well. There are many great options; but my personal favorite is the line of Diono Radians, which depending on the model, supports up to 100-120 lbs, making it the only seat you’ll need to buy to safely keep your child restrained from infancy until he reaches that height requirement of 4’9”.
Booster seats save lives. So when my daughter asks me if I am sure she still needs to sit in a booster seat, I don’t hesitate with my response: yes, I am sure!
Teresa Stewart, MS, MPH
Program Manager: Safety and Wellness