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Booster Seats: All You Need to Know

little girl giving thumbs up sitting in a booster seat in a car

Are you doing everything you can to keep safe on the road? While choosing the best car insurance on the market will certainly give you peace-of-mind, there may be other steps you should be taking and products you should be buying to make sure that you and your family are as protected as possible.  

Consider this: each year, tens of thousands of children are injured or die as the result of a motor vehicle accident. Take 2020, for instance. That year, 63,000 kids aged 12 and under were injured and there were 607 fatalities. More than 35 percent of the children who lost their lives were not buckled up or in a booster seat. Car and booster seats save lives, so get the necessary information and give your children the best possible protection. 

Finding the right booster seat for your child involves a bit of research to make sure that the seat fits properly and best protects your child. This article gives you an overview of the different types of car and booster seats on the market as well as tips on finding the right products to keep your family safe on the roads. 

Types of Car and Booster Seats

The terms “booster seat” and “car seat” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Here’s an overview of the different kinds of seats available for children traveling in passenger vehicles: 

Rear-Facing Car Seat (Newborn to Ages 2-4) 

A rear-facing car seat is the right option from the time that babies are born until they are toddlers. A car seat in the rear-facing position is designed to fit securely in the back seat, offering optimal protection for very small children and infants. A small child should never sit in the front seat of a vehicle due to the risk of damage from the passenger side air bag.   

Car seat configurations can either be rear-facing-only or convertible, meaning that they can be used as either a rear-facing or forward-facing seat. Determining when a child is ready to move to a forward-facing seat will depend on their individual weight and height. Most children are ready to move into a forward-facing car seat at around 22 pounds, but parents should follow the weight/height limits and recommendations that come with their particular car seat model. 

Forward-Facing Car Seat (Ages 2-4 to At Least Age 5) 

Once a child has outgrown their rear-facing seat, they’re ready for a forward-facing car seat. This usually happens around ages 2-4 but it’s important to follow the measure of height and pounds rather than age. More protective than a booster seat, a forward-facing car seat offers complete protection with a harness. 

Like backwards-facing car seats, forward-facing seats offer optimal protection through a five-point harness. Each car seat will come with its own weight limit (usually around 65 lbs). For most children, this means that they will stay in the forward-facing car seat until they are at least five years old. Again, parents should follow the recommendations of their car seat’s manufacturer.

Booster Seat

Once a child has outgrown a forward-facing seat, it doesn’t mean that they can go straight to sitting on their own in the car with a seat belt. It just means that they are now booster seat age. 

A booster seat helps properly position a child so that the seat belt fits them properly. Booster seats are always forward-facing and may be used until the child exceeds the manufacturer’s guidelines. For many children, this is later than you might think—often between 10 and 12 years of age. Booster seats are not just for young children — it is generally recommended that a child use a booster seat until he or she reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches.

When your child no longer requires a booster seat, he or she will use a seat belt. It is recommended that children 13 years of age and younger only sit in the back seat to prevent air bag damage. 

Although the specifics of state laws vary, all states within the United States require the use of some form of child safety seats. If you are unsure which car seat or booster seat is right for your child, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides handy guidelines. The NHTSA’s car seat finder is an easy-to-use and straightforward tool. 

When Can a Child Stop Using a Booster?

Children generally need to use a booster seat until they are between the ages of 10 and 12. However, you shouldn’t switch to a seat belt based solely on age. You need to make sure it will protect your child before making the switch. You can have your child take a simple test to see if it’s time to switch.

Have your child sit in the backseat without the booster. Buckle the seat belt and then perform the following checks: 

First, see if your child is positioned all the way back to the edge of the vehicle seat when sitting naturally. Examine whether your child’s legs are able to bend at the knees while sitting. Next, you’ll want to make sure the vehicle seat belt fits right below your child’s stomach, touching the top of his or her thighs.  

Then, see where the shoulder belt restraint is centered. It should be between the neck and shoulder. Finally — and this is the most important thing — ask yourself if your child can maintain that position for the entire ride. 

If your child passes this test, it’s time to move from a booster seat to a seat belt. If not, keep using the booster seat and check again a few months down the road.

How Do I Know If My Car or Booster Seat Has Been Properly Installed?

If you want to be extra certain that your child is using the right car or booster seat, find a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician near you. CPS technicians take a course to become nationally-recognized to perform car and booster seat inspections. They perform inspections at local safety events or operate by-appointment within the community. 

Can I Buy a Car or Booster Seat Second Hand? 

You may be able to use a secondhand car seat if you know its full history, it has not been recalled, and it comes with all of its original labels. However, it is recommended that you exercise extreme caution as car and booster seats all come with an expiration date. 

It is a common misconception that booster seats do not expire like car seats do. This is false—booster seats have expiration dates just like car seats. Convertible seats also have expiration dates. 

Where Can I Find My Manufacturer’s Guidelines?

It is important to read through the instruction manual that comes with your car seat to make sure that you’re following the proper weight and height limits. Your car and booster seat manufacturer will also give you specific recommendations—many recommend that you avoid dressing children in bulky winter clothing while using a car seat. 

If you misplace your seat’s physical manual, you can find an electronic version online. 

Stay Safe on the Road

Choosing the right car seat is critical for keeping your kids safe on the road. Make sure you use the right car seats and booster seats and switch to seat belts when the time is right. You might not be able to avoid ever getting into an accident, but with the proper safety equipment, you lower the risk of anyone getting seriously injured.

Along with seat belts and child safety measures, don’t forget to protect yourself and your family with affordable auto coverage. At Freeway, drivers have reported up to 30% in savings*. Start your free car insurance quote online, over the phone at (800) 777-5620 or visit a Freeway office near you today!

*Based on a Q3 2022 study of Freeway Insurance customers who reported saving when they switched.

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