5 On Your Side

How long should your kid ride in a booster seat? The answer may surprise you

Posted June 21, 2018 6:29 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:18 a.m. EDT

Babies and toddlers first come to mind when you hear the word "car seat," but big kids need them too. How do you know an older child is safely restrained?

According to Consumer Reports editor Emily Thomas, Ph.D, booster seats could be the best way to protect them in a crash.

"It helps position the belt over the strong bony part of their body rather than their internal organs," said Thomas.

Boosters lift children up so the seat belt fits correctly -- over the sternum and the center of the collarbone, not the neck or arm. The belt will also lay low across the upper thigh rather than the abdomen.

Booster seats come in two main styles -- high-back and backless. While a backless seat is better than nothing, Consumer Reports recommends a high-back booster since it does a better job of positioning the shoulder belt and its side wings provide some side protection in a crash.

The Evenflo Big Kid Amp Highback and Evenflo Big Kid Sport rated the highest in Consumer Reports' safety tests.

According to Thomas, children need to ride in booster seats longer than many parents realize. In fact, North Carolina is one of many states with a booster seat law stating that children under 8 years old have to use one.

"Kids generally need to be in a booster until they are at least 4'9" and between the ages of 8 and 12 years old," said Thomas. "Typically, this is when the vehicle seat belt will fit them correctly and they are more comfortable on the larger vehicle seats. It's also when their bones will be stronger and can better handle the pressure from a seat belt during sudden braking or in a crash."

Even when kids outgrow a booster seat, the back seat is still the safest place for anyone under the age of 13.