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Sure, all the guides and state laws indicate that at age 12, kids can use seat belts and parents can toss the booster and car seats. But not so fast! As a parent, you have to understand that lawmakers create state laws–not safety experts and engineers. Therefore, these “rules” and state laws, aren’t set in stone. So, when is the appropriate time for your kids to move into the back seat or front seat, and start wearing seat belts?
As a parent, you can’t ever be “too safe.” Especially when it comes to your children, and child safety in the vehicle. In honor of Child Passenger Safety Week, which runs through Sept. 29, these are a few basic tips parents should employ, when deciding if their child is ready for the seat belt.
The Basic Guidelines for Seat Belt Safety
Most car seat and booster seat manufacturers have a set guideline for when it is safe for kids to transition from car seats to booster seats, and eventually to wearing a seat belt. These guidelines indicate:
- Newborn to 12 months: Rear-facing car seats.
- 1-3 years of age: Front-facing car seats. It’s usually best to stay in rear-facing seats as long as your child’s size allows.
- 4-7 years of age: Front-facing car seats with harness, until the child outgrows the height limit.
- 7-12 years years of age: Booster seat with seat belt, until your child is tall enough for a seat belt to fit them properly–across the upper thighs, chest, and shoulder.
Although these guidelines indicate different age groups, parents shouldn’t rely on this information alone. Parents have to focus on a child’s weight, their height, and should also focus on state guidelines. Every state has different legislation in place, so following the “basic guidelines” that car and booster seat manufacturers devise, isn’t always the best approach.
Focus on Weight and Height–Not Age
Of course, your child wants to get out of the booster seat. They think they’re ready for the “big kids seat.” But, as a parent, you have to step in and know you’re the ultimate decision-maker when deciding when it’s time for them to move into a seat belt in the back seat, let alone the front seat.
Seat belts are designed to secure 165-pound men into their seats safely. Seat belts do, however, fit kids when they are approximately 4’9” tall or fall between the ages of 8 to 12. But, don’t rely on this information 100% as the clear-cut indication your child is ready for the transition.
Utilize the 5-Point Test
When deciding if your child is ready to transition from a booster seat to wearing a seat belt, parents should rely on the 5-point test. The five questions to ask include:
- Does the child sit all the way back against their seat?
- Is the lap belt touching the thighs?
- Do the child’s knees bend comfortably (without slouching) towards the seat’s end?
- Does the belt cross at the shoulder/arms?
- Can they remain seated in the position for the entire trip?
If the answer is no to one, or multiple questions, don’t make the transition just yet. Even if they are 12 years old, or taller than the 4’9” height.
Use Your Judgment as a Parent
Road accidents and traffic deaths occur frequently. We’re at the point where nearly 40,000 traffic fatalities are happening in the U.S. annually. It could be the third straight year with this many road deaths.
“We aren’t making progress, we’re treading water,” Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics for the council, said in a statement. “We cannot accept 18,000 deaths as the price of mobility.”
This striking statement is just an indication of how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel, further, to bring your children into a vehicle. Safe driving is only half the battle. Buckling up, and choosing when to transition your kids to seat belts, is something parents shouldn’t take lightly.
Traffic accidents aren’t going to stop because you’re a safe driver. Therefore, as a parent, you have to take as many precautions as possible, to keep yourself, and your children, as safe as possible. Although there are parameters and state laws, rely on your best judgment and listen to your gut when deciding if it’s time to transition your kids over to the seat belt. More often than not, this is what’s going to help prevent a significant injury, or possibly a fatality, that doesn’t have to occur.