The best way to keep your school-age child safe in the car is by using a booster seat and seat belts. But at some point they will outgrow this special seat and be able to sit in a regular car seat. This will be a growth milestone for your child — and a safety nightmare for you.
And that begs the next question: how long should my child avoid the front seat?
The answer depends on your child’s size and age, as well as the kind of vehicle you drive. Florida law requires children under 5 years old to be properly restrained no matter where they are seated in the vehicle. Children through age 3 must be secured in a separate carrier, such as a booster seat, or in a vehicle manufacturer’s integrated child safety seat. For children ages 4-5, a separate carrier, an integrated child safety seat or a safety belt may be used. If a safety belt does not fit the child correctly, a booster seat should be used to correctly position the lap and shoulder belts once they outgrow forward facing child safety seats — generally at about 40 pounds and 4 years old.
In general, children aren’t able to make the switch until they’re at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and can pass a five-step test, typically between ages 8 and 10, which considers the following:
- Whether the child sits all the way back against the car’s seat
- Whether the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat
- Whether the lap belt rests naturally below the child’s belly
- Whether the shoulder belt is centered across the child’s shoulder and chest
- Whether the child can stay seated like this for the whole trip
A booster seat is put in place in addition to seat belts to protect a child. In the event of a car accident in Florida or an automobile collision a seat belt that does not properly fit the child can actually cause more harm if the child is riding in a regular seat, without the booster.
Children may protest the booster, feeling they are big enough to ride as the adults do. Talk to your child about how special he/she is to have a special seat and find a booster seat that is as comfortable for them as possible. If you have any questions, consult with a Fort Lauderdale attorney experienced in Florida auto accident and personal injury laws.
And always remember: Never move your child to a regular car seat until their physical growth makes it a safe scenario.