by Cherie Sage
I often receive calls from parents, grandparents, and even child care providers with the question, “Does my child need to ride in a booster seat?” It’s a simple enough question, yet the answer sounds more like a high school logic equation spewing out of my mouth. “If 80 pounds, but not 4-foot 9-inches, then…”
But what I find I want to convey more than anything is that while we now have some of the best child passenger safety laws on the books in the nation, they should not be confused with best-practice recommendations. Laws must be written so there is a clear line between right and wrong. Real life, however, tends to have blushes of grey in there.
My position with Safe Kids is not to be an interpreter of the law, but to help people find the way to best protect their child from accidental injury given their individual situation. In short, your car seat/booster seat should fit your child, fit your vehicle, and have features that will ensure you use it correctly every single time. But what about the 2-year-old who has already outgrown his harness seat that’s rated to 40 pounds? Or the short 8-year-old?
Automobile manufacturers’ design seat belts to fit adults. Generally that means the smallest passengers these are designed for are around 4-foot 9-inches. Most 8-year-olds do not meet this criteria. Indeed, many 8, 9, and even 10-year olds can still benefit from the additional safety that a booster seat provides by making the adult seat belt system fit their bodies.
On the other end, those robust 2- and 3-year olds should instead move into higher-weight harness seats until their maturity and ability to sit in position catches up with their body size.
The best way to answer the individual’s question is to have that adult caregiver and that child visit a local car seat check lane or inspection station where a certified car seat technician can look at the whole picture. Height and weight of the child...dimensions of the vehicle seat...how the seat belt system is configured and how it works...fit of the car seat or booster seat for the child and the vehicle. This may not be rocket science, but CPS Technicians still have to attend four days of training to become certified, and that’s just to learn the building blocks! If this were simple, we wouldn’t need CPS Techs, so don’t be afraid to seek out their expertise.
Motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for Kansas children, and we’re still seeing car seats being misused at a significant rate (approximately 3 out of 4). And know that if you call me and ask what Kansas law says you have to do, be ready for the essay answer.
Cherie Sage is State Director for Kansas Safe Kids.