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.
For the past ten years, the news media has consistently focused our attention on the fact that obesity is on the rise; that it has become a major problem in the United States, and that childhood obesity, in particular, has put young children at-risk for a multitude of health-related issues.
One surprising health-related issue stems from the fact that many infants and toddlers are being transported in car seats that are not safe for them to be riding in, and I am not referring to the improper installation of those seats. The problem I AM referring to is the fact that when car seats are crash-tested, the crash-dummies that are used to simulate the effects of an accident impact do not reflect the overweight child population being transported.
With so many young obese children today, common sense should dictate that the crash-dummy’s weight and dimensions more closely match that of the children using the car seats being tested.
In an article on the ThirdAge.Com website, March 29, 2011, under Boomer Health and Lifestyle, Katherine Rausch highlights a problem that although acknowledged for some time, has been awaiting a solution since 2004, but researchers have not come up with a product. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is using smaller adult version dummies for child crash-testing. Why? According to a recent article in the Washington Post, it’s because crash test dummies are expensive to develop and funding is not readily available to develop larger “life-like” child test dummies. This leaves child safety seat manufacturers self-regulating their own products. It also means that seats made just a few years ago to hold 65lb children are now marketed for those up to 85lbs.
It appears that heavier-weight crash-dummies have been in development for adults for decades now. Why haven’t overweight children been given the same attention?
With so many recent news reports about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ and NHTSA’s “new safety seat guidelines”, are we deluding ourselves into thinking our kids are safe?
Hi! I’m Bruce Mather, the inventor of the SeatSnug which enhances the safety and comfort of children in car booster seats. How did I end up inventing a new child safety device? Because I like to drive fast. Very fast. Let me explain.
Some people take golf lessons. Some people take tennis lessons. I take driving lessons. Like millions of others, I enjoy driving my car very fast and I take my every day car out on a racetrack to do so, where a professional driver coaches me on how to drive even faster.
As I’m sure you know, race car drivers use multi-point harnesses in their cars for better driving control and for safety. But, because I was using the car I drove to work in every day as my race car, it was not convenient to put harnesses in it. Unfortunately, this meant I was sliding around all the time at the track, and not able to control the car as well as I would like because the car’s seat belt allows looseness to develop in the lap belt while riding.
So I invented the CG-Lock to hold me in the seat, yet keep the car unmodified. The CG-Lock is a small, palm sized device that easily clips onto the buckle part of your seat belt. What it does is allow you to lock the lap belt portion of your seat belt from gentle to very tight. Think of an aircraft seatbelt. You buckle it up, and pull on the loose end to make the lap belt as tight as you want. That’s what the CG-Lock does, except it does it with a seat belt that also has a shoulder belt portion. You buckle your seatbelt and pull up on the shoulder belt to make the lap belt as tight as you want. The shoulder belt is unaffected, so you can stretch and reach as usual. After all, this is your daily driver. The lap belt stays as tight as you have set it until you unbuckle or push a lever that releases the tension.
So how did this turn into a child safety device? Because of a rule: when sports car drivers take driving instruction, both the driver’s and the passenger’s seats must be equipped identically. This means that a sports car driver using a CG lock for better control, must also put one on the instructor’s seat. Since most of these cars are driven daily, moms use the cars too. And some of the moms began writing us how much of an improvement in stability and comfort the CG-Lock provided. They suggested that the CG-Lock could be used to more safely secure children in booster seats and older children who are not safely secured by the seat belt itself.
When I looked into this unexpected use for the CG-Lock, I found there was a big need to improve booster seat safety. Booster seats rock and tip, allowing looseness or slack to develop in the lap belt portion of the seatbelt. This not only makes the seat rock more and sometimes even fall over, but it allows the child to slouch. This is dangerous. In the event of an accident, a loose lap belt can ride up over the abdomen of the child causing severe injury. Abdominal injuries are the most common injuries for children in booster seats after an accident. Further, a loose lap belt can allow a child to submarine under the belt or to be thrown against the side of the vehicle or to be ejected. A slouching child also allows the seat belt to be out of position when an accident occurs and to not be properly positioned to take optimum advantage of the safety equipment in the vehicle.
So it looked like the CG-Lock was a great product for child safety. But when I tested it with a larger number of moms, I found that most did not like the look, weight, or attachment method. To meet moms’ needs, I needed to completely redesign the CG-Lock…I did, and called it SeatSnug. Now it gets really interesting!
Using a modified version of the government’s child car seat crash test protocol, and an instrumented six year old sized “crash test dummy” at 30 miles an hour, I found that the G forces on a child would be about 7 Gs less at the chest and 11 Gs less at the hips when SeatSnug is added to the seatbelt! Wow! These were amazing improvements in the safety potential measurements. In addition, with only a gentle tightening, the lap belt always stays low across the upper thighs and hips of the child (exactly where the government and child car seat manufacturers recommend). This gentle tightening restricts the booster seat from rocking or tipping to make the child more comfortable too. I’ve even received testimonials that the reduced bouncing reduces car sickness. Finally, a snugged lap belt means the child is sitting up straight at all times, which is the optimum position for absorbing the energy in the event of a crash.
Most parents, like me during track days, probably thought the manufacturer-supplied seatbelts found in cars today are sufficient for providing the safest possible situation for their children. Not true! As I soon found out, standard, comfortable, one-size-fits-all seatbelts alone can’t offer maximum protection to occupants, including small children. SeatSnug solves that problem and enhances both safety and comfort for children.
Parents’ and Grandparents’ awareness of the problem, and the SeatSnug solution, is JUST starting to grow and I am very proud of the acceptance our devices are receiving. Now, our CG-Lock is widely used by the motion picture industry during the performance of dangerous driving scenes to enhance driving control and safety. I like to think if the CG-Lock is good enough for James Bond, it should be something every parent would want in every vehicle to protect their loved ones.
To help raise awareness that you CAN do more to protect your children, Lap Belt Cinch, Inc. announced the SeatSnug “Snug Up America” campaign – a major nationwide children’s safety campaign aimed at promoting greater child passenger safety and awareness. To join SeatSnug in helping to raise awareness by educating others on child passenger safety issues visit www.seatsnug.com and click on the “Snug Up America” button to see how you can make a difference.
About Booster Seats:
Children of booster seat age and/or weight should ride in a booster seat in the rear seat. To locate the age and weight requirements for your state, visit
Check out booster seats to make certain they properly fit your child.
Always buckle up children in booster seats with the seatbelt. Make certain that the shoulder strap properly fits across a child’s chest, over the shoulder and not across the neck. Visit safekids.org for the “safety belt fit test”.
For an instructional video on how to best secure your child in a booster seat, click here.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released their newest rankings of child booster seats. If you have (or soon will have) a child within this category (approximately ages 4 to 8 ) this information is invaluable. The IIHS has tested 72 different seats and provided their safety rating for each one. As a parent or grandparent, aunt or uncle this allows you to make, safe informed decisions and eliminates the guesswork and the ‘I hope so’ fear that you made the right decision for your child.
The following is how the IIHS suggests that booster seats fit and help protect children:
Boosters elevate children so safety belts designed for adults will fit better. The lap belt should fit flat across a child’s upper thighs, not the soft abdomen. Good boosters have belt-routing features that hold lap belts down and forward. The shoulder belt should cross snugly over the middle of the shoulder. Then it’s in position to provide effective protection in a crash.
Here is a partial list of their “Best Bets.”
Britax Frontier 85 (combination highback)
Chicco Keyfit Strada (dual highback)
Clek Oobr (dual highback)
Cosco Juvenile Pronto (dual highback)
Cybex Solution X-Fix (highback)
Eddie Bauer Auto Booster (dual highback)
Evenflo Big Kid Amp (backless)
Evenflo Maestro (combination highback)
Graco TurboBooster Crawford (dual highback)
Click here for a complete list and for more information.
For the purpose of this discussion a tweener is a child who has outgrown a car seat and is too small for a conventional shoulder and lap belt configuration. The proper course of action to secure this group is to use booster seats. However, three states have no laws requiring the use of booster seats and in many others the requirements are vague and not enforced. In most cases of a tweener a shoulder belt does not fit correctly and the lap belt by itself is dangerous. Not knowing better many parents will tuck the shoulder belt behind the child, unaware of the hazard this poses.
Ford recently demonstrated a new shoulder harness with an air bag built into it. This is a tremendous improvement for all- especially for children. Regardless of the law in your state, regardless of whether you are required to use a booster seat- do it for the safety and life of your child. For more information on the new airbag and a compelling story to use booster seats please see the following Today Show video.