Parents always worry if their child is in their harnessed seat correctly. Is the harness at the right height? Properly tightened? Chest clip on the chest? No one thinks about boosters much though. Put kid in, buckle, and go. Many boosters are used incorrectly though and in turn do not provide the proper protection. Even if you use your seat according to the manual, it doesn’t mean it’s providing a proper booster fit for your child.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) does a booster evaluation every year of Best Bets, Good Bets, Not Recommended, and those that need to Check Fit before use. Thankfully most seats are on the Best Bet list, which makes it easier on care givers. This doesn’t mean all seats will fit all vehicles and all children; and of course boosters still need to be adjusted to the rider.
Here is an example of one of the seats on the not recommended list. Even though the child using the seat meets the requirements and is using it properly, it would not give proper protection in a crash. You can see the shoulder belt does not contact his shoulder, the lap belt is high on his abdomen and not touching his thighs, his bum is back, but even though he met the minimum requirements to use the seat, at four years old there is no way would maintain this position the entire length of the trip. The belt fit is bad enough I would never recommend this seat be used as a booster.
First things first. When should a child move into a booster? Once a child is at least five years old, meets the minimum requirements of the booster, and can sit properly in the seat 100% of the time, a booster seat is appropriate. You can learn more about it in Harness or Booster. How long does a child need to use a booster? Children need boosters until 10-12 years old, are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, and are able to fit properly in an adult seat belt. Boosters are for Very Big Kids will go over the requirements to move out of a booster in more detail, as will Booster Seat Science.
What is proper booster fit? A few guidelines:
1. Shoulder belt firmly in the middle of the shoulder with shoulder belt guide just above the shoulder and shoulder belt flush against the body. A shoulder belt that doesn’t touch the person can’t properly restrain him.
Many boosters without backs come equipped with a should belt adjuster clip. This acts as the shoulder belt guide to ensure the shoulder belt is flush with and appropriately positioned above the shoulder. The attachment strap often will be attached from behind meaning the shoulder belt will then be between the child and the vehicle seat. Few seats require their use, so be sure to read your manual and if it’s needed and how it should be used.
2. If using a no back booster, or if your high back booster requires it, be sure there is head support from a vehicle head restraint behind the child’s head to at least the tops of the child’s ears.
3. Lap belt low on the thighs, off the abdomen, and pulled tight.
4. Bum all the way back in the booster. Depth of booster can help this. Taller kids may need deeper boosters.
5. Child can maintain this position 100% of the time without moving. If this cannot be accomplished, then a harnessed seat is required.
Boosters do a great job at protecting children in a crash. The key is to make sure your child is mature enough to use a booster, meets the criteria to use the booster, you’re using the booster correctly, and the booster fits your vehicle and child correctly.