Seat belt or booster seat?The 5-Step Test

I recently completed an 8-hour Car Seat Inspector Training course — and learned that, even though your child may seem old enough for just a seat belt, it often isn't a safe idea. I was surprised to find my 7-year-old daughter still needs a booster seat even though she's tall for her age.

Lorrie Walker, child passenger safety project director, says, “Most parents take the child out of the booster seat way too soon. Safety equipment (like seat belts) is geared to adults. Booster seats modify adult equipment so kids can benefit.” So how can you tell when your child is ready to ride safely in the car without a booster seat?



With your child buckled into a seat belt only, answer the following questions:


1) Does your child sit all the way back against the auto seat?

Specifically, is the entire length of her back against the seat?


2) Do your child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?


3) Does the shoulder belt cross your child's shoulder between the neck and arm? If higher, your child could suffer muscle or nerve damage to the neck during an accident.


4) Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs? If the lap belt is crossing your child at the abdomen, there is a higher risk for injury to the internal organs during an accident. Physicians even refer to these types of abdominal injuries as “Seat Belt Syndrome”.


5) Can your child stay seated like this for the whole trip?


If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your child should continue to use a booster seat.


Don’t compromise your child’s safety by not using a booster or car seat if he didn’t pass the above test. As Walker says, "We have to change the way parents think about car safety. As a child gets older, they might even need more protection.” Using the 5-Step Booster Test, most children will continue to use a booster seat until age 8 or older.

Also, kids like booster seats because they are more comfortable than only a seat belt. Well, that’s the reasoning I used anyway when I had to move my daughter from a seat belt back into a booster seat. She wasn’t happy at first, but in less than a week she readjusted to using her booster again. Until she passes the 5-Step Test, that’s where she’ll stay.


Car passenger safety resources:


• National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 888-DASH-2-DOT or


• National Safe Kids Campaign:


• SafeRide News Publications:


• SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.: 800-745-SAFE or





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go to CAR SEATS + CHILD – first page, last image