Booster Seat Safety 101: When You Need It, When You Don’t

little girl riding in car in booster seat

Get the scoop on booster seat requirements and how to tell when your child is ready to ride like a big kid.

When it was time to get baby the perfect car seat, you were all over it. You understood why it was important to have one, and what could happen without one. But booster seats remain a bit of an enigma for many parents. For instance, did you know that most kids aren’t ready to be out of a booster seat until at least 10 years of age, sometimes even 12? And that seat belt? It should sit on your child’s lap, never the tummy. Confused? You’re not alone—which is why we’re here to explain everything you need to know about booster seat safety.

In this article:
Booster seat requirements
High back booster seat requirements
Backless booster seat requirements
When to stop using a booster seat
Booster seat safety tips

Booster Seat Requirements

As your child grows, he’ll graduate to different types of safety restraints, moving from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing one, and then on to a booster seat. These types of restraints boost a child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. There are laws in place regarding the safe use of booster seats, but they vary from state to state. Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require kids who have outgrown their car seats—but are still too small to safely use an adult seat belt—to use a booster seat; the only states that don’t are Florida and South Dakota. (Curious to know what your individual state law says exactly? Check out the state-by-state guide on the Governors Highway Safety Association website.)

But across the country, the following is true: “Children should be moved to a booster seat only when they have outgrown the height or weight limit of their forward-facing car seat with a harness,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Car seat limits vary depending on the model, so check your instruction manual to see when your child should start using a booster seat. Even when you make the switch, always be sure to place the booster in the vehicle’s back seat.

Is your kid ready to ride in a booster seat? There are actually different kinds of boosters to choose from. Read on to learn how they differ and what the booster seat requirements are for each.

High back booster seat requirements

As the name implies, a high back booster seat is one with a high back. It also has a headrest. These features are especially important if your car has low seat backs or seats without head restraints, since a child’s head and neck should always be supported. “A high back booster seat is more secure, so it’ll cut down on a kid’s wiggling,” especially if the…

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