Odds are, if you watch the news or follow car seat safety, you know that The Insurance Institute’s for Highway Safety released its latest booster seat study today. The report is titled “Booster seats are doing a better job.” That is certainly a reassuring finding for parents with kids in boosters.
Not so reassuring, most parents aren’t using them. According to IIHS, “Booster seats are important for 4 to 8 year old kids to improve the fit of safety belts, which are designed for adults.” However, they note a concerning trend that “less than half of kids this age are using booster seats.”
It’s a dangerous proposition according to experts. Without a booster, a seat belt can cause a child serious injury. The booster raises a child up so that the belt fits properly. Among other injuries, a lap belt that lays across the child’s abdomen instead of flat against their legs could injure their internal organs.
“The lap belt is the dangerous part of the belt for kids; their bony structure isn’t ready for the lap belt earlier,” explains Stephanie Tombrello of Safety Belt Safe USA
NOTE: This should not be interpreted to imply that it is ever safe to let your child ride in a car without a seat belt.
Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require booster seats for kids who have outgrown their car seats. Penalties include fines up to $250 dollars and the driver may have points added to their driving record similar to a speeding ticket.
Florida and South Dakota are the only two states without booster requirements. So, the fact that more than 50% of applicable children may not be using booster seats is surprising to some, concerning to others.
However, as concerning to the child safety advocates at SafetyBeltSafe USA (SBS USA) is the fact that state laws only require booster seats until the age of 8 and in some cases allow kids as young as 3 to use a seat belt without a booster.
“It is essential to change the message: most kids need boosters until ages 10-12,” said Tombrello.
SBS USA offers a 5 step test to ensure that your child is ready for a seat belt without a booster. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, they urge you to keep your child in a booster.
According to Tombrello, SBS USA’s testing of more than 8300 kids found that a majority of kids under the age of 10 did not safely pass.
While different kids at different ages may fit safely in some cars, SBS USA found that they did not fit safely in others. In fact, they found children over 4’9” did not safely pass the test in some cars.
SBS USA urges parents to teach their child how to self-test, and argues that the laws need to be changed to address the concerns.
“Age, height, none of those tells you accurately about correct fit. Every car, every kid, and every relationship is different,” Trombrello said. “The 5-Step Test is the only way, unless one is going to start talking about measuring vehicles, to be sure the child fits.”
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