Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing seats. All children whose weight or height exceeds the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly. Typically, this is when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years of age. Most children will not fit in most vehicle seat belts without a booster until 10 to 12 years of age.
All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat. Instructions that come with your car safety seat will tell you the height and weight limits for the seat. As a general guideline, a child has outgrown a forward-facing seat when any of the following situations is true:
- They reach the top weight or height allowed for his seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and in the instruction manual.)
- Their shoulders are above the top harness slots.
- The tops of their ears have reached the top of the seat.
Types of Booster Seats:
High-back and backless are 2 standard types of booster seats. They do not come with a harness but are used with lap and shoulder seat belts in your vehicle, the same way an adult rides. They are designed to raise a child up so that lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly over the strongest parts of the child’s body.
Most booster seats are not secured to the vehicle seat with the seat belt or lower anchors and tether but simply rest on the vehicle seat and are held in place once the seat belt is fastened over a child. However, some models of booster seats can be secured to the vehicle seat and kept in place by using the lower anchors and tether along with lap and shoulder belts. (Currently, only a few vehicle manufacturers offer integrated booster seats.)
Installation Tips for Booster Seats:
When using a booster seat, always read the vehicle owner’s manual and the car safety seat manual before installing the seat. Booster seats often have a plastic clip or guide to correctly position vehicle lap and shoulder belts. See the booster seat instruction manual for directions on how to use the clip or guide.
Booster seats must be used with lap and shoulder belts. When using a booster seat, make sure:
How to Use a Booster Seat - Video:
- The lap belt lies low and snug across your child’s upper thighs.
- The shoulder belt crosses the middle of your child’s chest and shoulder and is off the neck.
- If your booster seat has lower anchors or tether attachments, check its manual for installation instructions.
In this video, Benjamin Hoffman, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician and certified car seat technician, guides parents on how to properly use and install booster seats in your vehicle. Booster seats should be used until your child can correctly fit in the adult lap and shoulder seat belts, typically when they are around 4 feet 9 inches in height and 8 to 12 years old.
Common Questions about Booster Seats:
What if my car has only lap belts in the back seat?
Lap belts work fine with rear-facing–only, convertible, and forward-facing seats that have a harness but can never be used with a booster seat. If your car has only lap belts, use a forward-facing seat that has a harness and higher weight limits. You could also
- Check to see if shoulder belts can be installed in your vehicle.
- Use a travel vest (check the manufacturer's instructions about the use of lap belts only and about the use of lap and shoulder belts).
- Consider buying another car with lap and shoulder belts in the back seat.
What is the difference between high-back boosters and backless boosters?
- Both types of boosters are designed to raise your child so seat belts fit properly, and both will reduce your child’s risk of injury in a crash. High-back boosters should be used in vehicles without headrests or with low seat backs. Many seats that look like high-back boosters are actually combination seats. They come with harnesses that can be used for smaller children and, later, removed for older children. Backless boosters are usually less expensive and are easier to move from one vehicle to another. Backless boosters can be used safely in vehicles with headrests and high seat backs.
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org: