700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Using a Booster Seat Until a Seat Belt Fits

Sep 30, 2021
child wearing a seatbelt giving two thumbs up.

Car crashes are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. More than half of children killed in car crashes are not using child safety seats or seat belts. Using a child safety seat can reduce the risk of death by up to 70 percent.

Depending on age, weight and height, children need to be in car seats, booster seats, or seat belts every time they are in the car. We all know to put a newborn in a rear-facing car seat, but how long should older kids stay in a booster seat? 

Every state has different laws, but most states require booster seats until age 8 or 9 or when the child reaches 4’9” – whichever happens first. However, these guidelines may not be protecting our kids as much as we’d like.

The real answer is kids should be in a booster seat until the adult seatbelt fits them properly. For most kids, this is somewhere between age 10 and 12 years old. This varies based on the child’s size and proportions, as well as the specific vehicle they’re in and where they’re sitting in it.

So how do you know if a seat belt fits? A child no longer needs to use a car seat or booster when they can pass all steps in the “5 step test.” This means:

  1. The child’s back and bottom are flat against the seat of the car, without any gaps behind them.
  2. Without slouching, the child’s knees bend over the edge of the vehicle’s seat and their feet rest flat on the floor.
  3. The shoulder belt crosses the center of the shoulder, not the face or the neck.
  4. The lap belt fits low over the hips and upper thighs and not on the belly.
  5. The child can ride like this for the whole trip.

Never let children put the shoulder belt behind them or under their arms. This could cause them to get hurt in a crash. Whether kids are big enough to fit in the adult seat belt or still need a booster, it’s important to buckle up for every ride.

Read about age- and size-specific guidelines in Ohio, and get more information on how to fit and use car seats and booster seats.

Featured Expert

Carrie Rhodes
Carrie Rhodes, CPST-I, MTSA, CHES
Passenger Safety Program

Carrie Rhodes, CPST-I, MTSA, CHES, coordinates the Passenger Safety Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She is passionate about using her experiences in health education, injury prevention and road safety to partner with families in safely transporting their children.

Laura Dattner
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Laura Dattner is a research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. With both a health communications and public health background, she works to translate pediatric injury research into meaningful, accurate messages which motivate the public to make positive behavior changes.

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Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.