Booster Seat Concern

Updated on May 09, 2010
L.M. asks from Denver, CO
13 answers

Hi Moms... The family is heading on vacation Saturday (we are flying) and we are trying to decide if we should transition my daughter into her backless booster seat for the trip (so we can travel lighter) or keep her in her car seat. The booster seat guidelines recommend that she be at least 4 yrs old, weigh at least 40 lbs, and be at least 40" tall. She's 5, weighs 37 lbs, and is 42.5" tall. My husband doesn't think that the 3lbs difference in her weight will compromise her safety, but I am not completely convinced. What do you think?

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answers from Sacramento on

No, I am a huge fan of boosters, but you have to meet all of the requirements. If she's 37 lbs., she's not there yet. Sorry ... wish I had good news for you.

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answers from Denver on

The really sad truth is car seats don't save lives, use of seat belts does. And when "car seats" were required, the instance of belting children into cars increased dramatically, therefore childhood fatalities decreased exponentially. You can read it for yourself here:

So no, 3LB won't make a difference. Belting her into the backseat *will* make a difference. And yes, I know there is a video of a child who's seatbelt malfunctioned making waves through the internet. It's touching, heartbreaking but is still a tragic accident and shouldn't be a generalized statement of how well "car seats" work or don't. Overall, seat belts do what they're supposed to do, save lives.

EDIT: I'm not handing out bad or dangerous advice. To whit:
Over the past three decades, there has been a concerted public campaign to ensure that all children riding in motor vehicles use child safety seats. The empirical evidence presented in this paper, however, suggests that for children aged two and up, child safety seats provide no discernible advantage over traditional lap and shoulder belts, and only a marginal improvement relative to lap-only seat belts in preventing fatalities. These conclusions are robust to the inclusion of a wide array of covariates, analyzing a variety of sub-samples of the data, including vehicle fixed-effects, and correcting for sample selection in the way the FARS data set is constructed. An obvious question to ask, although one which is beyond the scope of the FARS data, is the extent to which the failure of child safety seats to outperform seat belts is a consequence of child safety seats frequently being improperly installed. Indeed, NHTSA (1996) estimates that more than 80 percent of all child safety seats are incorrectly installed. Based on crash tests, Kahane (1986) argues that properly installed car seats reduce fatailities by 71 percent, compared to 44 percent for improperly installed safety seats. Thus, there may be potential gains to achieving better installation. On the other hand, it is worth noting that when I conducted my own crash tests at an independent lab using lap and shoulder belts on dummies corresponding to children aged 3 and 6, the seat belts performed well within the guidelines the federal government has established for child safety seats, and just about as well as the (properly installed) child safety seats that I tested. While far from definitive, the crash tests I conducted suggest that even with proper installation, there may not be clear advantages of car seats over seat belts.

The limited apparent effectiveness of child safety seats calls into question the justification for the current legal requirement in all 50 states that children aged two and older be restrained in child safety seats when riding in motor vehicles. Annual expenditures on child safety seats for children two and older are perhaps $200 million in the United States, an outlay that appears to be providing little return in terms of safety. Indeed, in the long run, the emphasis on child safety seats over seat belts may actually be having a negative impact on child welfare. Because the government mandates the use of child safety seats, there is little financial incentive on the part of automobile manufacturers to invest in developing seat belts that better serve the needs of child passengers.

And yes, even the author put his kid in a car seat because...wait for it...ITS THE LAW. What he's argued quite effectively, and so have several other researchers (I only included the easy one to read, apparently my bad) is that the car seat doesn't save a life, the act of bucking your child into a seat does.

I personally big into safety AS LONG AS THE DATA SUPPORTS WHAT I'M DOING TO KEEP MY KID SAFE. Helmets? Yes, the data supports use of helmets. Dragging my son into the womens room? No, the data doesn't support the fat that he's "safer". Keeping my kid away from "weird Unlce John", yes he's safer. Keeping him away from strangers, not so much.

So, do what you'd like, but I'm standing by my answer 110%.

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answers from Gainesville on

3lbs may not sound like much but it could potentially make a huge difference if goodness forbid there were an accident. It's never worth guessing or taking chances with your kid. I agree with CAWriterMom.

I'm not a booster fan either. Mine will stay in a 5 point harness as long as possible and that includes my 5.5 year old who is still in a Britax with a 5 point harness.

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answers from Denver on

I have a large 4.5 year old and we transitioned her to a booster(not even a backless one) but switched back. The reason was that when she would fall asleep, she would fall forward and the shoulder harness would stretch and pull out so that her face would be resting on her knees. Not only did this look uncomfortable, but if we were in an accident her the seat belt would lock while the shoulder harness was in the incorrect position, rendering it virtually useless. It was enough for me to go straight back to the 5 point harness in a bigger size. I did keep the booster though as it is perfectly safe to use with her friends when I am transporting them to and from playdates (and I give it to any parents who might be transporting her short distances). So anyway, if your child is still falling asleep on trips or you are driving long distances where sleeping is inevitable, I would stay with the 5 pt for as long as possible.
**They do come with seat belt locks that were so difficult to get on, I never even got it on once after several attempts. NOT the type of thing you can do quickly or that you would want to do more than once--as in taking it in and out of rental cars etc.

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answers from Denver on

I think you should take the 5 point. Reason being that the backless booster might not work for her in the rental car. Also, you need to check the laws of where you're going - each state is different and she may not be legal in a booster where you're going. You can also use the 5 point on the airplane - much safer than just a lap belt for little ones if you hit any major turbulence. My kids (including my 8 year old AND his friends) are all still in high-back boosters in my car, not backless boosters. Why? Because my minivan has weirdly high seatbelts in the third row and the backless boosters don't position the belt right without the weird attachment that kids hate and don't use right and get tangled in it....It's just easier w/the high back - a quick pop up or down with the handle at the top and the seat belt is positioned perfectly. The 3 lbs is not the issue. I know because I finally contacted the CO state patrol when my then 5 year old was too tall for her 5 point but only weighed 34 pounds and I couldn't find answers anywhere about skinny kids and car seats. The state patrol told me moving to a booster is completely dependent on their maturity level. Will she stay in the middle w/the seat belt positioned properly? If so, I could move her to a booster and skip the hundreds of dollars for a brittax to get a 5 point that was tall enough. Have fun on your trip!

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answers from Denver on

I was a flight attendant for 10 years. Once a child no longer needs a carseat, you don't use a booster seat on an airplane. The purpose of a booster seat is to hold a shoulder strap type seatbelt in the correct spot across the child's chest. Since an airplane only has a lap belt, there is no need for a booster seat. Although, once you reach your destination, if you are renting a car, you will need to rent a booster seat through the rental company (and tell them IN ADVANCE or they may not have one for you).

Also, as far as a booster in a car, I'm in a similar situation with my daughter. She just turned four, weighs 36lbs, but is 43in tall. The pediatrician said height is what matters the most b/c it's the position of the seatbelt that matters. We just switched to a booster. Good luck!


answers from Spokane on

Hi L.,

I have a 4.5 year old who is still on the small side, at only 36 lbs. I'm unsure of her height offhand, but I was able to get a backless booster that is for children 30-100 lbs. and 34-57" tall. It is called Cosco Highrise Booster. I got mine at Target. It was only about 20 bucks too. It works well, except for the fact that my little monkey likes to lean over in her seat, and we are still trying to teach her that it is not safe to do that. But for the most part we have been happy with it, and it has really boosted her confidence-she really thinks she's a big kid. Maybe that's why they are called boosters. J/K. BTW-good for you for not just going with what your husband said, and asking others. Everyone in my family makes fun of me because I always make sure my children are in the appropriate seats for their sizes, and my uncle jokingly asks if my son has his shoulder pads and helmet on, but I refuse to compromise on their safety. Hope this helps!




answers from Boise on

I just asked my pediatrician this yesterday at my daughters Kindergarten appointment. She is 38lbs but tall. She said to go ahead and move her since the over the shoulder belts are below her shoulder blades. She also recommended a backless booster because they are safer. I have not done any further research, I am planning to call the people who checked our cars to make sure our car seats were installed correctly.
OK Now I am researching this and this is what I found on the national safety site that runs all the places that check to see if your car seat is installed correctly.
A child has outgrown his forward-facing seat when any one of the following is true:

* He reaches the top weight or height allowed for his seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and also included in the instruction booklet.)
* His shoulders are above the top harness slots.
* His ears have reached the top of the seat.


answers from Seattle on

I think the most important thing is her height. THe booster is to make sure that the seatbelt is hitting her in the right spot.



answers from Denver on

Since she's so close weight-wise, I think it's okay. Height (where her knees hit and where the belt comes down her body) are better safety indicators.

We had a firefighter talk to our mom's group and he said that backless boosters were generally safer, as the kid is held against the car in the backless kind, not held to a seat which is held to a car. The seat gives one more point of movement.

I had a hard time transitioning my kids out of their booster seats or car seats until I realized that seat belts are attached to the frame of the car. With big bolts. That helped me along the way as we moved to the next piece of safety equipment.

If you are renting a car, they'll have booster seats you can borrow (ask ahead of time). Or maybe a friend at your location can lend you a seat, as she won't be able to use it on the plane.

Good luck!



answers from Salt Lake City on

I think the biggest question should be how does the seat belt fit with the booster. When you put her in the booster does the shoulder strap fit across her shoulder properly not up to high on her neck or face. Also does the lap belt part fit more across the top of the legs and not across the belly. My daughter is at the same point with weight not being 40 lbs yet but in our van the backless booster fits her great. Good luck with your decision. checking on renting a car seat from the rental car place would also be a good option to travel lighter.



answers from Denver on

I am reading some of these posts as I will be flying soon with my 4 year old son. I am confused about the booster on a plane -- can you bring a booster on a plane? I do not want to take his car seat, a booster is easier and I have both - one with a back and one without - so can either be used on a plane and then I will have it to use in the rental car?



answers from Pocatello on

I would be more concerned if she wasn't tall enough for a booster and not worry so much about the weight. If her upper body is tall enough that the booster will keep the belt from rubbing across her neck then I wouldn't worry. Make sure the strap goes under the arm rests against her hips for the best protection. You don't want the lap belt going against the belly if there is an accident. If she is responsible enough to face forward and stay in the seat belt correctly I wouldn't worry. At first my kids would try to put the shoulder strap behind them or sit sideways and I would have to tell them to sit in it right or I would take the booster and they would be back in a full car seat.

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