Boosters for Big Kids
Boosters for Big Kids
Protecting Preschoolers and Older Children
Car Safety Basics
• Your child should use a car
safety seat (car seat) with
a harness for as long as
possible, until at least age 4.
After age 4, children are often
ready to use a booster seat.
• ALWAYS follow booster seat
and car instructions.
• A lap-shoulder belt MUST be
used with a booster. NEVER use
only a lap belt with a booster.
• If your car has no shoulder
belts in the back seat, see the
other side of this sheet.
• Teach your child to buckle up and
to pull up on the shoulder belt to
make the lap part snug.
• Use the back seat for all children
under age 13. The back seat is
safer, with or without an air bag.
• The center of the back seat is
safest. It is farthest away from
any impact in a crash. However,
a child in a booster MUST sit
where there is a shoulder belt.
• ALWAYS use your seat belt. Your
child learns from what you do.
Make sure everyone in the car
buckles up.
• Make sure others who drive your
child know you expect your child
to use a car seat or booster.
Warning: Always secure a booster
with a seat belt or LATCH when it is
not being used. A loose booster can
fly around in a sudden stop or crash
and injure others in the car.
Boosters are Much Safer Than Seat Belts Alone
When does a child outgrow a car seat?
Your child should use a car seat with a harness for as long as possible. It will
give more protection than a booster or a seat belt. Most car seats fit children up to
40 pounds. Many car seats fit children up to 65 to 80 pounds.
Keep your child in a car seat until:
• his ears are above the top of the child seat, or
• her shoulders are above the top shoulder strap position, or
• his weight is at the upper limit of the car seat (check the label or instructions).
When your child outgrows a car seat, he or she usually needs a booster seat.
What is a booster? What does it do?
A booster seat raises the child up. It helps the
lap and shoulder belts fit properly (picture, top).
Using a booster seat in the rear seat reduces a
child’s risk of injury by almost 60 percent. A booster
also makes the child more comfortable and allows
him to see out the window better. See page 2 for tips
on choosing and using a booster correctly.
A booster is not the best choice if:
• The child is over 40 pounds but too short for a booster.
• The child is too wiggly to sit still in a booster.
• There is no shoulder belt to use with the booster.
These children would be much safer riding in a car seat
or harness with a higher weight limit. (See Resources.)
A booster helps seat belt fit
properly. This is a backless
Why can’t my child use only a seat belt?
Seat belts are made to fit adults. They do not fit
most children until at least age 8 to 10. If the lap belt
Poor seat belt fit. Child is
is around or near the child’s waist (picture, bottom), it
too small to use it safely.
could cause serious injuries in a crash. If the shoulder
belt is across the neck, a child might put it behind his back or under his arm. That
also could cause very serious injuries.
When will my child be big enough to use a seat belt?
Use the 5-Step Seat Belt Test* to find out. Sit your child in the back seat and
put on the seat belt. Check the steps below. If you answer “yes” to ALL of these
steps, your child is big enough to use a seat belt without a booster.
• Can your child sit with a straight back against the vehicle seat back ?
• Do his legs bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
• Does the lap belt stay down low on her hips, touching the thighs?
• Is the shoulder belt on the center of the shoulder?
• Can your child sit this way without slouching during a long ride?
Note: All cars are not the same, so do this check for any car your child rides in.
* Adapted from SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. 5-Step Test
FACT SHEET © 2010 Safe Ride News Publications, 800-403-1424 •
Reproducible by SRN Fact Sheet purchasers only. For noncommercial distribution only.
B3 Revised 1/10
Boosters for Big Kids
Kinds of Booster Seats
Most boosters fit children from 40 up to 80 to 100 pounds.
• Booster with a high back: Best if your vehicle has a
low seatback to help prevent neck injuries. A high back may
provide better head protection in side impacts. The high
back helps keep a sleeping child
in place (picture, right). (Note: A
few cannot be used with low-back
vehicle seats.)
• Combination seat: This kind
of car seat has a harness for a
child under 40 to 80 pounds. The
harness can be taken out to make
it into a high-back booster for a
larger child.
belt-positioning booster
• Booster with no back: A
backless booster (shown on page 1) is fine if the vehicle
seat has a high back and your child does not sleep in the
car. Older children may think they look more “grown up.”
Choosing and Using a Booster Correctly
Proper fit of the seat belt is important. All boosters
designed for use in a car are safe. Choose a booster that
makes the seat belt fit your child correctly.
A lap-shoulder belt MUST be used to hold your child in
a booster. NEVER use a lap belt only. A few also use the
LATCH anchors. ALWAYS follow the instructions.
Take your child with you when shopping for a booster. To
check for proper fit:
• Place your child on the booster and buckle the seat
belt around your child. Use the seat belt guides on the
• Check the lap belt position. It should be on top of the
thighs or low on the hips.
• Check the shoulder belt position. It should go across
the middle of the shoulder. Most shoulder belt guides on
boosters are adjustable to help with proper fit. Make sure
the belt slides through the guide easily.
Air Bag Warning
In a crash, the impact of the air bag can injure or kill a child.
Never put a rear-facing car seat in front of an active air bag.
If you cannot avoid putting a forward-facing child in front, make
sure the car seat harness or the shoulder belt is snug. Move the
vehicle seat all the way back.
A sports car or pickup truck with no back seat or a very small
back seat may have a switch or sensor that turns the front air bag
off. Make sure the air bag is turned off before putting a child in front.
(Turn it on again for adult passengers.)
If there are side air bags in the back seat, make sure your child
does not lean against the side of the car.
Check the car manual for more information about air bags.
If a Car Has Only Lap Belts in Back
A booster seat cannot be used
with a lap belt, so a different safety
device is needed. Also, some
children over 40 pounds need
more support than a booster gives.
Options are:
• A car seat with a harness for a
child over 40 pounds (picture,
Car seat for child over
40 pounds, used with
seat belt and tether
• Vests and harnesses for children over
40 pounds, which require a tether strap.
Using Seat Belts correctly
When your child is big enough, teach him how to wear
the seat belt correctly. ( Adults need to buckle up correctly,
Lap belt fit is most important. The belt must be low
and tight, touching the top of the thighs. Teach your child to
push the lap belt down and make it snug (picture, below).
It is hard to keep the lap belt snug and low if a child is
wearing a heavy jacket. Either pull the jacket up so the lap
belt goes under it or open the jacket and pull it to the sides.
If there is a shoulder belt, make sure your child uses it.
The shoulder belt should cross the middle of the shoulder.
Make sure your child does not
put the shoulder belt behind her
back or under her arm. That can
cause very serious injury.
Some cars have built-in
shoulder belt height adjusters
(see the owner’s manual). These
make the shoulder belt fit better.
Avoid using a shoulder belt
Correct seat belt fit
adjuster bought from a store.
They do not have crash safety standards. They may make
the seat belt too loose or the lap belt too high. This can
cause serious injury.
NHTSA Auto Safety Hotline: 888-327-4236, 800-424-9153 (tty),
SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.: 800-745-7233,
Find a Child Passenger Safety Technician: 866-732-8243,
Car seats and vests for children over 40 pounds:
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:
FACT SHEET © 2010 Safe Ride News Publications, 800-403-1424 •
Reproducible by SRN Fact Sheet purchasers only. For noncommercial distribution only.
B3 Revised 1/10
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