Booster seat-aged children — that is, children in forward-facing child seats, including those who use the car safety belt and those who have built-in harnesses — are twice as likely to suffer serious injury or death in a car crash than younger children, but a new study shows they may be less likely to have car seats inspected for safety. Researchers from the University of Michigan found that although only 1 in 10 of the car seat inspections performed free at inspection stations in Michigan covered booster seat-aged children, ages 4 to 7, 30 percent of those children were in what they called a “sub-optimal restraint.”
In simpler terms, relatively few parents stopped in to have their older children’s seats checked, but about a third of those who did left with their children safer than they had been before. This research doesn’t offer details about the safer restraints, but other research suggests that parents often allow children to move too quickly to less-restrictive booster seats, abandon booster seats altogether or to sit in the front seat.
When it comes to car seat safety, parents’ focus is usually on the hard-to-install infant seat, which is both more complex than the child-booster seat and the new-parent introduction to the glamorous world of reaching down into the depths of the back seat in search of Latch connectors in the new-grandma’s not-so-new car. We should spend just as much time considering our older children’s safety as we did on getting that first seat leveled just so.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that until at least age 2, children should sit in rear-facing seats, but the recommendation is based more on size than age, and smaller children who don’t exceed the rear-facing seat’s capacity can still be rear-facing. They should transition to front-facing seats with harnesses until their weight and height exceeds the car seat’s capacity (they may well be able to buckle and unbuckle the harness themselves long before that happens).
A booster seat should be used until a child is 57 inches tall, which is the height of an average 11-year-old. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should not sit in the front seat until they are 13 years old, regardless of their size. (Want to know more about that last recommendation?