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Parents get confused about car seat use because of two questions: 

  1. When does my child move to a booster seat?

And

  1. When does my child no longer need a booster seat?

Here are the answers:

  1. There is no specification as to when a child can move out of a 5-point harness system and into a booster seat.
  2. California law states that a child must ride in a child restraint system in the back seat until he or she reaches age 6 or weighs 60 pounds.

Each time you move a child to the next stage car seat, you sacrifice some level of safety. So, when you go from rear-facing to forward-facing or out of a 5-point harness system to a booster seat, your child is a little less safe.

The longer a child is in a 5-point harness system the safer they are. On the market now are car seats that hold children weighing up to 80 pounds and include a 5-point harness system. These car seats also have a height limit as well.

A five-step test helps you know when your child is ready to use the adult seat belt and not a booster seat.
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 auto seat belt cross the shoulder between the neck and the 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?

A NO to any of these questions means a child needs to use either a car seat with a 5-point harness system or a booster seat. And because back seat sizes vary from car to car, a child may need a restraint in one car but not in another. Children are not likely to fit an adult seat belt until somewhere between 8 and 12 years old.