We are continuing our conversation today about car seat safety and when to transition to the next stage of seat as well as how to safely use each stage. Today we are talking about Stages 3 and 4- Booster seats and seat belts.
When transitioning to a booster seat, it is important to do your research as here is where children’s age, weight, and height have such a big impact on how you choose to restrain them in your car. Many people think that as soon as their child hits the 40lb minimum requirement of a booster seat that they should immediately make the switch from their forward-facing seats, however, there is so much more to this decision than just the minimum weight factor. As long as your child is within the weight and height ranges for his or her forward-facing seat and fits the car seat properly, it is safest to use that car seat as long as possible. Making the switch to a booster seat can be confusing so we are here to help you navigate when to make the switch and what to transition to.
What is a booster seat?
A booster seat is a device used to lift your child to the position that correctly fits the vehicle seat belt across their body. The shoulder belt should be across the centre of the chest, contacting the collar bone and not the neck. The lap belt should be low on hips and upper thighs, not across the soft tissue in the child’s midsection. This is the fit that offers the most protection in the event of a collision.
Types of Booster Seats:
There are two types of stage three seats- a combination seat or a belt positioning seat.
Harness to Booster Combination Seat: this type of seat starts out as a forward facing seat with a five point harness and can later be converted to a belt positioning booster once the height/weight requirements are met. The use of a five point restraint system is recommended for as long as you can as it offers more protection in the event of a collision and is more difficult for a child to get out of or use incorrectly.
Belt Positioning Booster Seat: this type of seat relies solely on the vehicle seat belt to position the child to adequately fit the seat belt. Both a lap and shoulder belt must be used with this type of seat and it is not safe to use with a lap belt only which is the type in some older cars and middle seat positions.
There are two types of Belt Positioning Booster Seats to choose from:
High Back Booster (HBB): Has side wings for torso and head to provide lateral support for a child in event of side impact collision. This also helps keep their torso and body in a vertical position while they are awake or sleeping so when the seatbelt locks up at point of impact, it contacts the strongest parts of their body, minimizing risk of injury.
Backless Booster: Just as it sounds- there is no back attached to the booster, it is just the seat portion. With a backless seat there is no lateral support, it provides only the lift to position to the right seatbelt hight but does not help support them when they are sleeping or leaning over. If a child is still and in upright position, they perform the same as a HBB, they just don’t have the support for when child is sleeping or moving out of vertical position.
- Refer to the height and weight requirements of your current forward facing seat as well as it’s expiry date to determine when you may need to transition to the next stage. If your child is well within the seat limits and fits the seat well, it is safest to keep him there until he outgrows it.
- When purchasing your stage three seat, consider your child’s age, weight,and height along with the new seat’s expiry date and cost. Sometimes a pricier seat gives you a longer length of use and is more cost effective in the end.
- Be sure that whatever seat you choose is compatible with your vehicle as not all seats fit in all cars.
- A child in a belt positioning booster has the same freedom an adult has to undo the seat belt and move/bend over within the belt so carefully consider their maturity before transitioning them out of a 5 pt harness into belt positioning.
- If you are purchasing or using a backless or low back booster, make sure the vehicle seat or headrest comes at least to the middle of the child’s ears to protect his head and neck in the event of a crash.
Important Tips for Proper Use:
- Always consult your vehicle owner’s manual and booster seat user guide prior to installation to ensure you have correctly installed it for optimal safety.
- Always use both a lap belt and a shoulder belt with a booster seat.
- Always buckle up an empty booster seat (or take it out of your vehicle) so it doesn’t become a projectile that could hurt someone in a crash or sudden stop.
- Do regular fit checks on your child to be sure that the belt is fitting them correctly and that it is not twisted or obstructed in any way that would prevent it from locking up in a collision.
Stage 4: When is your child ready for seat belt only?
Children must be at least 4’9″ tall and typically 8-12 years old before making the switch but there are many other fit factors to consider. Your child must be able to sit up straight, with his or her back against the back of your vehicle’s seat and feet touching the floor. Your child’s legs should be able to hang over the seat without slouching. Slouching makes the lap belt move up over the stomach when it should be over the hips. The shoulder belt should rest on your child’s shoulder, never on the neck or arm. If the seatbelt rubs their neck they will put it behind their head and won’t get the protection they need on their torso in a crash.
If your child can’t sit in the right position or the vehicle seat belt does not fit properly, he or she is still too short and should stay in a booster seat for a while longer. If your child grows out of their booster seat before they are ready to use only a seat belt, there may be another booster seat that fits your child.
Remember that once you do make the switch to a seat belt, the back seat is still the safest place for children in the event of a collision. A minimum age of 13 is recommended before sitting in the front seat and though they may feel they are missing out on “Shotgun” privileges, the back seat could save their life.
Still feeling car seat confused? Visit us at one of our store locations to further speak to an advisor with any questions you have. If you live in the GTA, you can also visit us at our exclusive Car Seat Day Event on Saturday, September 24th from 10am-4pm at our head office location 1040 Sutton Drive in Burlington, Ontario. We will have special bonus offers, gift bags and car seat brand reps on site to ensure you walk away with the knowledge you need to keep your child safe.