As your child gets older, he or she will need special types of restraints to keep them safe in the car depending on the age, weight and/or height of the child.
Currently all 50 states and the District of Columbia require safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria. However, only 47 states, including the District of Columbia, require booster seats for children who have outgrown a car seat but are too small to use an adult seat belt safely.
There are four types of restraints (including adult seat belts) that will keep your child safe. But deciding when to make the switch from each stage can be confusing since the criteria for change is often ambiguous.
Here are the four stages of child passenger safety with tips to help you decide when it’s time to purchase a new car seat or booster seat.
Rear–facing seats are those that face the seat and the back window rather than the front window. You should check the height or weight limit mandated by the manufacturer of your car seat (often on a label affixed to the seat), but in general your infant should be placed in a rear-facing seat until he/she is at least one year old and/or 20 pounds. Once your child has reached the highest weight or length allowed, they should continue to ride rear-facing in a convertible seat.
As soon as your child has grown out of their rear-facing seat, you should purchase a forward-facing seat with a full harness. Once again, you should check the manufacturers’ guidelines on height and weight limit but generally, your child should be no younger than four and weigh at least 40 pounds.
Booster seats are for older children who have grown out of their forward-facing car seat. Your child should stay in the booster seat until an adult seat belt can fit correctly – usually when your child reaches about 4’9’’ and is between 8 and 12 years-old.
As soon as your child is over 4’9” and/or weights 80 pounds, they should be big enough to use the adult seat belt. Make sure the lap belt lays across the upper legs and the shoulder belt fits across the chest. It is important that your child does not place the shoulder belt behind their backs, so make sure the belt is in a comfortable position.
This information is a general guideline. Each state has its own laws governing when a specific child restraint is required. Currently 47 states require booster seats, but age, weight and height requirements vary. Be sure to check to see what your state law is, since first offense fines for not complying can range from $10 to $200.
For additional tips and driving safely with young passengers, click here.