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The speed at which car- and booster-seat guidelines and laws change can be dizzying. When my first child was born, the guideline -- and it was just a recommendation, not a law -- was that kids should be in boosters until they were 4 years old or 40 pounds. With my second, the law became 6 years and 60 pounds. Now California has passed a new booster seat law requiring that children younger than 8, and who aren't yet 4'9," stay in a booster until they meet those minimums (there are exceptions for kids who are 4'9" but younger than 8). And other states will likely follow.
Just like the new recommendations that infants stay in the rear-facing position until they are least 2 years old, the new laws are all about preventing injuries and death in case of a car crash. The new California law takes effect in January 2012 but no matter what the laws are where you live, keeping your child in a booster seat for as long as possible is the safest option. Here's why:
--In case of a crash, a seatbelt can cause severe trauma to a child's internal organs if the child isn't seated in a booster.
--Children who ride in booster seats are 45% less likely to be injured in a car crash than kids who are wearing seatbelts alone.
--Never use a booster with just a lap belt or place the shoulder belt under a child's arm or behind her back. In a crash the seatbelt will snap tight to restrain the child and this can cause serious injury or death.
--Seatbelts are designed to restrain adults, not children. (Many children aren't big enough to properly activate the restraint until they are between 8 and 12 years old.)
--When choosing a booster seat, make sure than you are able to position the lap portion of the seatbelt low on your child's hips and the shoulder portion across her chest and onto the shoulder or collar bone.
--Kids should ride in a booster with a high-back booster until they are too tall for it (read the label on your seat to determine this maximum). After that, it's safe to use just the seat part of the booster.