When Kids Can Stop Using a Booster or Sit in the Front Seat of the Car


Illustration for article titled When Kids Can Stop Using a Booster or Sit in the Front Seat of the Car

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Finally ditching the booster seat is a milestone many kids (and their parents) look forward to. But rushing the transition could put a child at greater risk for injury in a crash—and it could be against the law.

State laws regulate when it’s legal for kids to stop riding in car safety seats or boosters, and those laws vary from state to state based on age, height and/or weight. (There is a good list here if you want to look up your state’s car seat law.)

Even these laws, however, might not be the safest guidelines.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children whose weight or height exceeds the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s seat belt fits properly. That typically happens between ages 8 and 12, once they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height.

How do you know when the seat belt fits properly? Use SafeKids.org’s Five Step Seat Belt Test:

  1. Does the shoulder portion of the seat belt lay mid-chest, mid-shoulder?
  2. Is the child able to sit with his bottom all the way to the seat back?
  3. Do the child’s knees bend at the edge of the seat with their feet on the floor?
  4. Is the lap portion of the seat belt across the child’s upper thighs and hips?
  5. Can the child stay in this position for the whole trip?

Are they out of the booster already and begging to sit up front? Not so fast! Just because they’ve graduated from the booster seat doesn’t mean it’s safe for them to be in the front seat yet.

In most cases, 13 years old is the safest bet, as both size and age are factors in a child’s body being able to better withstand the impact of a crash. You can read more about front-seat safety here.


This story was originally published in 2015 and was updated on Dec. 7, 2020 to provide more thorough and current information.



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