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Does your child ever sit in the front seat of your car? Does she wear an adult seat belt? Has she not used a car seat since her diaper-wearing days?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should know that child passenger safety is not just about babies and toddlers. Most of us know how important it is to use a rear-facing car seat for babies (until they're two years old and have reached the maximum height and weight of their seat) and a forward-facing car seat for toddlers (until they outgrow the manufacturer's stated weight limit '- at least 40 pounds and, with some seats, 60 or more). But older kids need the extra step of a booster seat before they're ready to use a safety belt by itself.
Too many kids ages four to eight travel wearing adult safety belts when they should be using booster seats to make them safer and more comfortable during every ride. Kids are safer on a booster seat until they're at least four feet, nine inches tall (57 inches) and weigh 80 to 100 pounds '- that's when an adult safety belt begins to fit them properly. For most kids, that's until at least age eight, but many children do not meet those requirements until they're as old as 12. Finally, all kids under 13 should ride in a backseat in every car '- it is always safer.
So how do you know for sure if your child is ready to ditch the booster seat? Take this Safety Belt Fit Test from Safe Kids Worldwide:
- Ask your child to sit all the way back in the car's backseat. Do his knees bend over the front edge of the seat? Do they touch the floor?
- Buckle the lap and shoulder belts. Does the lap belt rest on her upper legs or thighs? Does the shoulder belt rest on her shoulder or collarbone? (Never put the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the back.)
- Watch your child throughout a car ride. Can he stay seated with the safety belt buckled properly?
If you answered no to any of these questions, keep using a booster seat until you can answer yes to all of them. Test again in a few months, and use the test in every car or truck your kids will ride in.