I spent four days in Denver last week(end) at the national Lifesavers Conference in Denver, which is a conference that gathers together highway safety professionals from all tracks and shares information.  This was not a blogger conference where we’re learning how to improve our writing or our blogs.  This is about strategies to save lives and remove unsafe drivers of all stripes from the road.  I learned so much from the sessions I chose to attend, but wow was it heavy.

On the plus side, I’ll feel a whole lot better once the wee ones start learning to drive because I feel like I have a handle on strategies around how to make them safer drivers.  And there are some behaviors of my own that I’m changing, as hard as I’ll admit that it is.  But one thing I got from the conference that makes me feel a whole lot better about my instincts is that yes, my nine and a half year old should still be in a booster seat.

Lone booster seat

And maybe yours should, too.  There’s a test that every child should pass before being in an unsupported seat with a seat belt.  And Mister Man doesn’t pass the test.  State laws don’t do a good job of saying when it’s safe to ride without a booster seat; they simply make a statement about when it’s legal to.  And unfortunately even around me, I see plenty of children without booster seats even long before it’s legal.

I remember when I asked my pediatrician when Little Miss was 2 if I should turn her around or keep her facing backwards because she was still nowhere near twenty pounds.  The pediatrician looked at me and said, “Well, it’s your choice.  Would you rather have a child with a broken leg in a car crash or a broken neck?”  She stayed facing backwards.  That question stuck with me then, and I still think about it now.

Yes, it’s convenient to move kids out of car seats and into booster seats.  And yes, it’s convenient to move them from booster seats to sit by themselves.  But for all we do to hold them back as children sometimes, this is an area where we push them ahead too fast sometimes.  No, it isn’t cool for kids to be seen as “a baby” by their peers, but as a parent, that’s the least of my concerns.  And the wee ones’ friends know that in my car, they go by my rules, regardless of what they do in their own car.

So what is the test to see if your child is ready to be out of a booster seat?  It’s a simple, and you can see it on the Safety BeltSafe U.S.A. site and clicking on the Five Question Test, which has illustrations, too.

1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

And unfortunately, Mister Man fails the first test every time.  As soon as I put him in a seat without the booster, he curls over and sits improperly, making the seat belt more of a liability  than help.  And so he stays in his booster, long after his friends are out.  But according to research done on the five question test, most children need to be in a booster seat until at least  age 10 to 12.  At.  Least.

Compare that to Illinois where it’s only required that children be in a child restraint system for ages 7 and under.  Like so much of what I learned at the conference, the laws and regulations are not maximums.  They aren’t a speed limit.  They are minimums for parents to then use as a guideline for what they need to do for their individual children, because we are all individuals.  Interestingly, some of the moms at the conference are now going back and will be returning their children to booster seats.

What’s your take?

In the interest of full disclosure, Toyota sent me to the Lifesavers Conference.  I was not compensated, nor was I asked to write this post.  All opinions remain my own.


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  • Pat


    Wow, I had no idea about this. My kids were only seat-belted in at age 6 or so, but that was in the 1980s. I’m thinking of sending a link to this post to my sons who have children.

    • Michelle


      Oh trust me, I had no idea either. All I knew was that Mister man would hunch forward in a way that didn’t look safe if I ever let him go sans booster. Now I have a better idea of why. It was SO different when I was growing up from what it is now – and even from what it was 10 years ago….

  • Kate


    This sounds so crazy to me! But I guess we are just used to what we see all the time. This doesn’t necessarily make it right. I am going to send this to my friends with kids!

    • Michelle


      It does sound crazy, doesn’t it? But it’s research based, and things keep changing – often for good reason. Thanks for sharing!

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