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Booster Seat Safety


What Are Booster Seats?

Booster seats are seats that help kids stay safe in cars. It's time to use a booster seat when a child outgrows a car seat.

Booster seats lift kids up so that seatbelts lie across the strong bones of the chest and pelvis instead of the belly and neck, where they could do serious damage in a crash.

How to Choose a Booster Seat

  • Choose a seat with a label that states that it meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
  • Be careful about using a secondhand booster seat:
    • Never use a seat that's more than 6 years old or one that was in a crash (it could be unsafe, even if it looks OK).
    • Avoid seats that are missing parts or aren't labeled with the manufacture date and model number (you'll have no way to know about recalls), or seats that don't come with an instruction manual.
    • Check the seat for the manufacturer's recommended "expiration date." If you have any doubts about a seat's history, or if it has cracks or other signs of wear and tear, don't use it.
  • If you do opt for a used seat, contact the manufacturer to find out how long it's safe to use the seat and if it's ever been recalled. Recalls are quite common, and the manufacturer might be able to provide you with a replacement part or new model.

What Are the Types of Booster Seats?

Booster seats come in a few styles:

Belt-positioning boosters raise kids to a height where they can safely use the car's lap and shoulder belts. They come in high-back or backless models:

  • High-back boosters are recommended when the car has low seat backs.
  • Backless boosters can be used if a child's head is supported up to the top of the ears by the vehicle's back seat or head support.

Combination seats are high-back seats with a five-point harness. They can be used with harnesses as forward-facing safety seats or as belt-positioning booster seats with the harnesses removed. Use a five-point harness for kids who weigh 40 pounds or more.

If your car doesn't have shoulder belts in the back seat, talk to your car dealer about having them installed. If that's not possible, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping kids in a forward-facing seat with a full harness.

How Do I Install a Booster Seat?

  • Before installing a booster seat, read the owner's car manual and the booster seat product manual carefully. The owner's manual will explain how to use your car's seatbelts with a safety seat.
  • Place the booster seat forward-facing in the back seat. It's best to put it in the middle of the back seat where there is a lap and shoulder belt.
  • Check the positioning of the safety seat before each use.
  • Have your child safety seat checked at a child safety inspection station to make sure it is installed correctly.

To make sure the booster seat is secure:

  • Read the booster seat manual carefully.
  • Make sure the lap belt is low and tight across your child's hips.
  • The shoulder belt should lay flat and snug across your child's shoulder, staying clear of the neck and face.
  • Shoulder and lap belts should always lie flat, never twisted.

Kids this age can begin to understand the importance of buckling up and may want to buckle themselves in. Be sure to check their seatbelts and praise them when they put them on by themselves.

When Do Kids Outgrow Booster Seats?

Kids can stop using a booster seat when:

  • They're big enough to use the vehicle's lap and shoulder belts while sitting with their back against the vehicle's seat back with their knees bent over the edge of the seat without slouching.
  • The lap belt rests low, on top of the thighs, and the shoulder belt lies comfortably across the middle of the chest.
  • They can comfortably stay in this position for the whole ride. This usually happens when a child reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches (about 150 centimeters) and is between 8 and 12 years old.

Seatbelt Safety

Never fasten the shoulder strap of the seatbelt behind a child's back or under their arm. And never buckle two kids (or an adult and a child) under one seatbelt. Their heads could collide in a car crash.

If you carpool or have other kids in your car, it's wise to have an extra booster seat handy, especially if you're unsure about whether a child meets the height requirements. It's always better to be safe than to let a child who isn't tall enough ride with only a seatbelt.

What About Air Bags?

When combined with safety belts, air bags protect adults and teens from serious injury during a collision. They have saved lives and prevented many serious injuries. But young children can be injured or even killed if they are riding in the front passenger seat when an air bag opens.

Air bags were designed with adults in mind. They must open with great force (up to 200 miles per hour) to protect an average-sized, 165-pound (75-kilogram) male from injury. While this force is OK for adults and bigger kids, it can be dangerous for small kids, possibly leading to head and neck injuries.

Protect kids from air-bag injury by following these rules:

  • Booster seats should go in the back seat. If you have no choice and must place it in the front (if your car is a two-seater), push the passenger seat as far back as it will go.
  • A law allows car makers to install a manual cut-off switch that temporarily disables a passenger-side air bag. As recommended by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, if you must place a child in a booster seat in the front seat and your car has this cut-off switch, use it to disable the air bag for the entire ride. Be sure to switch the air bag back on when you remove the booster seat.
  • All kids under 13 years of age should always ride in the back seat, and in the middle of the back seat whenever possible. All passengers must have their seatbelts buckled.

You can find more information about keeping kids safe in cars online at:

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: October 2019