The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that in a recent online survey of 1,000 parents with preteens, nine out of 10 moved their kids out of booster seats before they were ready for a shoulder harness and lap belt alone.
The reason: Most used age, state laws, or even a spouse's opinion – rather than the child's height and weight – to make the decision.
Researchers also found that parents who drive carpools tend to bend the rules, allowing their young passengers to ride without the restraints they normally use. One out of five said they've never talked with other carpool-driving parents to confirm whether a car seat, booster, or shoulder harness and lap belt is the right restraint to use.
Booster seats, when used with a shoulder harness and lap belt (never a lap belt alone), can reduce your child's risk of injury in a crash by 60%.
To ride safely without a booster, a child should be at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and weigh 80 pounds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's safe for kids to ditch the booster and use only a shoulder harness and lap belt when you can say "yes" to these five questions:
- Does the child sit all the way back against the seat?
- Do knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?
- Does the lap belt stay across the child's hips without sliding up his or her abdomen?
- Is the shoulder belt centered on the child's chest and shoulder?
- Can the child stay seated this way for the entire trip?
In Oregon and Washington, children can legally ride without a booster when they're taller than 4 feet 9 inches or over age 8. Washington law also states that, when practical, children 12 and younger must sit in the back seat. According to the IIHS, placing children in back instead of the front seat reduces injury risk by 64% for infants and kids up to age 8, and by 31% for kids ages 9 to 12.
PEMCO is a longtime supporter of the Washington State Safety Restraint Coalition. For more on keeping kids of all ages safely restrained in the car, check out its car seat and booster tips.