I’m 9 Years Old – Do I Really Still Need a Booster Seat?

My son doesn’t want to use a booster seat anymore. I can see his perspective: none of his friends use one any longer and he thinks the seat belts in our cars fit him just fine. So why bother?? Because he’s just nine. And because crash studies and child safety guidelines from experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate that  he still needs to be using one. Although he thinks he’s so smart and grown up, he’s just a kid – and I’m the parent. And I actually know what it feels like to be injured in a car crash.

Guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 recommend that kids use a booster seat until they are at least 4’9” tall (57 inches) and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. This will likely be around the ages of 8-12 years. But it’s the physical dimensions that matter most. Kids need to be large enough to fit properly in the seatbelt – and mature enough to ride without slouching down and defeating the whole purpose of the belts. Focusing on the age of the child to guide booster seat decisions can be misleading. Last spring – at 9-years of age – my son measured in the 75th percentile for both weight and height at his annual pediatric visit (meaning he was taller and heavier than 75% of other nine-year olds)….and he STILL DIDN’T meet the criteria for graduating from a booster seat – he’s not yet 4’9” and weighs only just over 80 lbs. So why are we in the minority in our community in still using a booster seat?

The problem is that many state laws – and therefore local communications about what constitutes safe car travel for older kids – haven’t caught up to these recommendations (click here for a summary of state laws on child passenger safety). Many states – like Alabama, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska (to name just a few) focus exclusively on age – without the all-important height and weight requirements. This list includes my state of Indiana which allows children over age seven to shelve the booster seat, no matter how big they are. My son’s best friend – also nine – stopped using a booster seat last year. He’s fully THREE INCHES shorter than my son. How can he possibly be safely restrained by an adult seat belt during a crash? And this isn’t just a theoretical issue. Safe Kids USA reports that children seated in a booster seat in the rear of the car are 45% less likely to be injured in a crash as compared to those using a seat belt alone.

While this is bad enough, some states – like Florida, Arizona and South Dakota don’t even have booster seat laws. In these states it is legally permissible for children as young as age 4 and 5 to use adult seat belts. Is there some reason why the children in these states are less likely to be involved in a traffic accident – or that they are somehow more resilient in a car crash?

Let’s face it – the process of proposing and passing laws is complicated and time-consuming. Hopefully all these states will eventually get on par with the guidelines, joining states like Georgia and Maine. However, in the meantime it’s our children riding in the back seat and I would rather base my car safety approach on best-practice guidelines than rely on the timeline and politics of my state judicial process.

So, in our house the 4’9” rule prevails. We even got out the measuring tape recently and determined my son has an inch to go. He’s counting down every day. And he understands that I’m following new expert recommendations to keep him safe – and that his friends’ parents probably just aren’t aware of these guidelines, which is too bad.

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About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twelve-year old boy. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global diabetes education programs as well as by her twelve-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a member of the PedSafe Team

Comments

11 Responses to “I’m 9 Years Old – Do I Really Still Need a Booster Seat?”

  1. Lisa says:

    I think the guidelines are generally good, but mandating laws based exclusively on height and weight is a problem for some. I know we’ll be among those who won’t meet them by the time we ditch the booster seat. I’m only 4’11” and 103 pounds, and hit 4’9″ in high school. I was 4’9″ when I got my driver’s permit and probably hit 4’10” sometime around the time I got my license (yes, late bloomer in all ways! I managed the last inch my senior year).

    My 7-year-old is about 3’6″ and maybe 37 pounds, tops, which means she wouldn’t meet the guidelines until junior high at the earliest. I’m not making a 12-year-old ride in a booster seat. Junior high is hard enough. Being really short is hard enough. Having a law that would allow my daughter’s friend (who’s a foot taller than her) out of her car seat by the time she’s 9 and mandating that my kid stay in until she’s 13 or 14 isn’t particularly helpful. This will be true for my younger daughter, who also lags behind in the height department. Laws that suggest an upper age and earlier height/weight qualifier would be acceptable (i.e., “10 years old OR 4’9″ and 80 lbs), but a strict height/weight requirement will always be ignored by the kids who aren’t on the charts.

    Besides once she’s 14, I want her in the front seat so we can have a year about talking about driving before she gets her permit. The idea of a child going from a booster seat straight into the driver’s seat terrifies me!
    Lisa recently posted..2011 Wrap-UpMy Profile

    • Nancy says:

      You clearly seem to be more interested in peer pressure than your child’s safety. So what if your child is still in a booster at 9 years of age, but her best friend doesn’t need one. Safety should come first. Have you seen the real life stories of children who were “old enough” by law in their state to not use a booster, but not at the “recommended” height/weight when there was a car crash and the seatbelt caused extensive internal injuries and/or death? But I guess that is worth the risk in order to give into peer pressure.

  2. I can subscribe to that, I’ve bookmarked the page on Digg under “Really Still Need Booster Seat at 9? Guidelines say yes”. So hopefully our friends can give you a visit. Cheers!

  3. Kim says:

    I’m about 4’10” and just under 85 lbs at 33 years old. I almost never feel fully safe in a car. I was in a head on collision and the airbag did me more harm than good. I’ve currently been searching for a booster seat that will keep me a littler safer. Please, keep your children in their booster seats until they can comfortably fit in the seat with the seat belt sitting in the appropriate places. It’s just not worth the risk.

  4. Inez says:

    I think there would be far less issue with this if the suggested height/age matched up even a little with what’s average. I checked on the CDC website and I think for girls the average age they attain 4’9″ is someplace between 10 and 11 years. The age and height numbers seems totally unrelated and arbitrary.

    We ditched the booster when her feet hit the floor flat without her slouching and the shoulder harness rested where it should (ours adjust).

  5. Rudy says:

    I don’t create many comments, however i did a few searching and wound up here Really Still Need Booster Seat at 9? Guidelines say yes. And I do have some questions for you if you don’t mind.
    Could it be only me or does it give the impression like
    a few of the responses come across like they are left by brain dead
    people? 😛 And, if you are posting at additional social
    sites, I’d like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Could you list of all of your public pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  6. michael says:

    As i am ten and i DO NOT have booster seat!!!!#

  7. rinzzzz says:

    i think ur 9 yo needs a booster. maybe he could get the loback unless he is uncomfortable and/or get the ones w/ the cool designs so when his friends make fun of him he could show them his cool blue fireworks or whatever. even if he is big for his age but he slouches and the shoulder belt rubs his neck and puts the shoulder belt behind his arm he needs a booster. even if he is over 4’9” and over 80 pounds
    4 example im 11 & 4′ 10” but still 70 lbs. i just have long legs but a little torso so the shoulder belt rubs my jaw & neck and the lap part is in my tummy even if i don’t slouch. i used a hiback booster til i was like 10 1/2 now i just use a stack of books and a pillow but in some cars it’s still not high enuf and is very uncomfortable
    i dunno if i need a booster but ur 9 yo does
    rinzzzz recently posted..Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 08-19-2013 to 08-25-2013My Profile

  8. Nancy says:

    My daughter is 9.5 and fairly small. She’s 4’3″ tall and 57 pounds. We have long time left to go until she won’t be in a booster! Yet none of the other kids her age still use them where we live.

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  1. […] seat until they meet these guidelines, as I noted in a post in January of this year, entitled “I’m 9 Years Old – Do I Really Still Need a Booster Seat?”. Despite the growing body of evidence supporting the use of booster seats for older kids, most […]



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