Our children grow up way too fast! Can you remember when you put the crib together? Do you remember the ride home and thinking; they’re sending me without an instruction manual? The nurse is not coming home with me? Fast forward to the now talking, independent 4, 5 or 6 year old who comes home and demands not be put in a “baby” seat anymore.
What do you do? Is it time to move to a booster and seat belt or should you keep them in the car seat with a 5 point harness? We’ve gathered together some facts and helpful pointers to guide you to a decision that’s right for you.
Seat belts are designed for adults who have bigger and stronger bodies than children. Therefore smaller children who do not fit in an adult seat belt are at risk of either being ejected from a vehicle during a crash or suffering severe injuries. It is important to bear in mind that a 5 point harness will spread crash forces out, minimising whiplash type injuries and keeping your little one secure. We would recommend that as long as your child’s head is still protected by their current seat to keep them in it for as long as possible.
Most commonly the lap part of the adult seat belt will sit too high on a young child meaning in the event of an accident internal organs and the spine would be seriously damaged. Because of their small stature and the underdeveloped pelvic bones, the seat belt will ride up to the abdomen which would get crushed by the forces of an accident. Preventing this is one of the main reasons for using a booster seat. They elevate the child, meaning the lap belt will sit lower across the body. However they only work if a child is big enough.
The lap belt should lie flat across the top of the thighs. Not across the abdomen
The earliest weight for moving a child up to a booster seat is 15kg but at this weight a child might not be 4 and could still be very small. Even with a booster cushion it’s possible the seat belt will sit too high on the abdomen. We would recommend before using a booster or any car seat, to test it out with your little one in it. For boosters the seat belt should lie as low as possible, ideally across the top of the thighs. The shoulder belt should lie flat on the shoulder and not cut into the neck.
Side impact protection is also an important consideration. A quarter of accidents are side impact collisions so high back boosters offer much better protection. The sides are also very useful as support when sleeping and stop your child’s body leaning to the side and potentially falling out of the seatbelt. Again, it’s important to check that your child fits in the booster, especially the shoulder width and height of the head rest. You should also check the seat fits properly in your car as the roof height or angle of the seat back might make it awkward to fit. A further benefit of a high back booster is the shoulder belt guide which will ensure the belt lies flat on the shoulder, avoiding the issue of it digging into the neck or being too high.
Lastly the most important thing to remember is that legally a booster seat of any description is required until your child is either 12 or 135cm in height, whichever comes first. At this point the neck is strong enough and body large enough to be supported properly by the adult seat belt alone.