If I had a dime for every time a caregiver asked me how to tell when their child will be able to stop using their booster seat, I’d have so many dimes. So. Many. Dimes. So let’s answer that question:
Your child is ready for the seat belt alone when they can pass what’s commonly referred to as the 5 Step Test.
1) The shoulder belt passes at the correct area (between the curve of their shoulder and their neck).
2) The lap belt is low on the hips, right across the tops of their thighs.
3) Their knees bend at the edge of the vehicle seat with their feet on the floor – no slouching!
4) They sit up straight and keep their back against the vehicle seatback.
5) They can stay this way the entire trip.
The current law in Michigan requires boosters for kids under 4’9″ or 8 years old – but remember that seat belts are designed for adults. And just like your favorite jeans aren’t likely to fit your 8 year old, the same goes for your seat belt. Boosters help ensure that seat belts lay at the strongest areas of their bodies so that they can do their job effectively, and age has very little to do with when a child is ready to sit in a vehicle seat without a booster. If the seat belt rubs against a child’s neck (a very common issue when kids don’t get that couple inch lift that a booster supplies) they’re going to be uncomfortable and move the belt behind their shoulder. This can lead to head and neck injuries not to mention severe internal injuries. The same goes for the lap belt – if it’s across the soft tissue of their belly it will cause massive internal injuries, even death.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute. My belt doesn’t fit like this in my vehicle! Do I need a booster seat?!”
The answer is no. Having gone through puberty, your bones are stronger and better able to withstand the forces of a crash. Your pelvis is also shaped differently than that of a pre-pubescent child and helps keep the lap belt where it needs to be, even if it’s not perfect.
Keep in mind that your “test results” will vary depending on the vehicle, so don’t just assume that since your 9 or 10 year old fits well in one seating position that it translates to all. And as always, reach out to a CPST for help if you have questions!
Dana is the lucky mother to two incredible kids (aged 10 & 6) and the happy wife of Nate. She stumbled around in her adult life for a while before finally realizing that she could get paid to pursue her passion: keeping kids safe. In 2013 she started working at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale where she eventually became a Child Passenger Safety Technician with additional Special Needs training. Dana also runs the child passenger safety-focused Facebook page Buckle Up Detroit and works with the amazing lady bosses at Metro Detroit Doula Services offering car seat classes, consultations, and more!