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Child Passenger Safety, Children Ages Five to Nine Years

Every month about 10 children aged five to nine years are hospitalized and 267 children in this age group are treated and released from hospital emergency departments because of injuries received from motor vehicle crashes in New York State (NYS). Unrestrained children are twice as likely to be injured in a car crash compared to children using appropriate restraints, such as booster seats and safety belts.

The good news is that you, as a parent or caregiver, can play a major role in preventing injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes.

What NYS child passenger safety laws are important for me to know?

NYS law requires children under age eight to be restrained in an appropriate child safety restraint system. An appropriate child restraint system is one that meets the child's size and weight and the specifications of the manufacturer of such system. A child restraint system may be a child safety seat, harness, vest or a booster seat. The vehicle's safety belt alone is not a child restraint system.

More information about NYS's law on child passenger safety can be found at Governor's Traffic Safety Committee.

What is a booster seat?

A belt-positioning booster seat is a child restraint that provides the needed lift so that the lap and shoulder belt fit properly. Correct fit of seat belts help protect the stomach, spine and head from injury in a crash.

Why does my child need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat?

When your child outgrows a child safety seat (usually around age four), he or she is too small to use an adult seat belt. A young child using adult seat belts alone can be seriously injured in a crash. Using a belt positioning booster seat with the lap and shoulder belt can reduce the risk of being injured in a crash by 59% for children ages four to seven compared to using safety belts alone.

What are the different types of booster seats?

A backless booster seats which does not have a back and can be used in vehicles where the seats have head rests or the seat cushion supports the head and neck.
  • Backless booster seats do not have a back and can be used in vehicles where the seats have head rests or the seat cushion supports the head and neck.
  • High back booster seats provide head support and must be used in vehicles with low seat backs which may include some mini-vans, trucks, SUVs and station wagons. They can also be used in other vehicles.
  • Combination child safety seat/booster seats have a harness which can be used as a child safety seat for younger children. After the harness is removed, the seat can be used as a high back booster seat with a shoulder and lap belt. Some high-back booster seats have removable backs and can be converted to backless booster seats. Others have adjustable backs to help accommodate your child as he/she grows.

What should I consider when choosing a booster seat for my child?

The best booster seat is one that fits your child, can be correctly installed in your vehicle and is used properly every time your child rides in the car.

To fit properly in your vehicle, a booster seat must:

  • Always be used with a lap and shoulder belt.
  • Position the lap and shoulder belt correctly on your child's body.
  • Not hang over the edge of the vehicle seat.
  • Not rock or tilt due to contoured or uneven vehicle seats.
  • Fit against the vehicle seat back. Some head restraint can interfere with some boosters.
  • Not get in the way or make it difficult for other passengers to use their safety belts.

The best way to choose a booster seat is to take your child to the store and allow him/her to sit in several models to see how well they fit. Some stores will allow parents to try a booster seat in their vehicles prior to purchase to make sure it fits properly. If the store does not allow this practice, try the booster seat in your car with your child immediately so you can exchange it for another seat if it doesn't fit. Also, make sure the booster seat fits in all of your family vehicles.

How do I correctly use a booster seat?

  • Follow the instructions. Always read and follow the manufacturer's directions for the booster seat and your vehicle owner's manual when using the booster seat with your child.
  • Always use a lap and shoulder belt and make sure the belts fit properly. Check the seat belt fit when your child sits in the booster with his back against the back of the seat. The lap belt should lie flat across the top of the thighs, not on the belly. The shoulder belt should cross the center of the shoulder and contact the body.
  • Always use a booster seat in the back seat. The safest place for most booster seats is in the center of the rear seat, where your child is best protected from a side-impact crash. However, some vehicles may have only a lap belt in the center back seat which should never be used with a booster seat. If this is the case, place the booster seat on either the right or left side of your back seat. Placing the booster seat on the right side of the back seat makes it easier for you to see your child and it is safer for him/her to get in and out of the car when you're parked on a busy street.
  • Use the booster seat's belt-positioning clip if needed. Belt-positioning clips are found on the sides of high-back booster or attached to a strap on a backless model. The clip is used with the shoulder belt to position the shoulder belt across the middle of your child's shoulder, only if needed.
  • Secure your booster seat or store it in the trunk when not in use. Loose booster seats can fly around in the car and could cause serious injuries if a crash occurs. Use the seat belt or lower LATCH straps (if your seat has them) to keep the booster seat secured when not in use. Refer to the instructions for your booster seat and the vehicle owner's manual when securing your seat using LATCH.

If you need additional help using a booster seat, consider attending a Child Safety Seat Check Up event or Child Safety Seat Fitting Station near you. A certified child passenger safety technician will provide hands-on education so you can be sure your child is protected on every ride. For a list of events and fitting stations, visit Governor's Traffic Safety Committee.

What if my vehicle has only lap-only seat belts in the rear seating positions?

Never use a booster seat with only a lap belt. Using only a lap belt may result in serious injuries to your child. An option to safely transport your child is to use a child safety seat with a higher weight limit as this type of seat can be properly installed using a lap belt.

When is my child big enough to safely use the seat belts without a booster seat?

It depends on the proportions of your child's body, the shape of the vehicle seat, and where the seat belts are attached to the vehicle. Most kids need to ride in a booster seat from about age four until ages 10 to 12 years.

Safety experts recommend that children continue to use a booster seat in the back seat of their vehicles until parents can answer yes to all of the following questions. Answer these questions when your child is buckled up using a lap and shoulder belt without a booster seat:

  1. When the child sits with his/her entire back on the vehicle seat, do his or her knees bend comfortably over the front edge of the seat?
  2. When the child is buckled up using the lap and shoulder belts, does the lap belt cross over the upper legs or hips?
  3. Does the shoulder belt rest on the child's shoulder or collarbone? If it rests on the face or neck, a booster seat should be used. The shoulder belt should NEVER be placed under the arm or behind the child's back.
  4. Does your child keep the correct seating position during the entire trip? If the child slouches or shifts positions so the safety belt touches the face, neck or stomach, a booster seat should be used.

Where can I find more information about child passenger safety?