Kids are often in a hurry to grow up, but the car is one place where it’s critical to not let them get ahead of their actual growth. Reports show that a child 1-13 years old is involved in a motor vehicle crash every 32 seconds, and year after year, crashes are the leading cause of death for children 1-14 years of age. While many parents are doing a great job using car seats for their younger children, too many older children are allowed to skip belt-positioning booster seats and move straight to using seat belts alone, putting them in serious danger.

Why are seat belts not enough? Seat belts work by redirecting the force of a crash to the strongest parts of the body, but they are designed for adults and don’t fit children’s bodies. To make up for this mismatch, we adapt our cars by using various types of harness-style safety seats for younger children. But when your child outgrows their forward-facing harness seat, you face a Goldilocks problem: their old seat is too small, but seat belts alone are too large. Many children “fix” this uncomfortable problem by slouching in the car’s seat or putting the shoulder portion of the seat belt behind their backs, which doesn’t help keep them safe. Your child needs something that’s just right for them to make the seat belt fit their body correctly and comfortably: a belt-positioning booster seat.

Belt-positioning booster seats work by literally boosting your child to the height needed for a seat belt to work properly and keeping the belt in the correct position on your child’s body. Experts estimate that using booster seats for children cuts the risk of injury in a crash by about half when compared to just using a seat belt alone.

To determine whether your child needs a belt-positioning booster seat, use this five-step test. If you say no to any question, keep your child in a booster seat.

  1. Is your child at least 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches) tall?
  2. Do your child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat of your vehicle when their back is fully against the seat back?
  3. Does the lap portion of the seat belt stay low on the hips or upper thighs, not cutting across the stomach?
  4. Does the shoulder portion of the seat belt fit tightly across the chest and shoulder, not cutting into the neck or face?
  5. Can your child stay seated comfortably in your vehicle’s seat like this for the entire trip without slouching or putting the seat belt behind their back?

No matter their age, your child needs to be properly secured for every trip on the road. Find the right seat for your child: www.seatcheck.org. Still have questions? Find a certified child passenger safety technician near you: https://cert.safekids.org/get-car-seat-checked

More prevention tips are available at www.preventchildinjury.org/toolkits/booster-seats.

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