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Why Even Your Older Kids Need a Car Seat

(c) 2004 by Cheryl Williams Levey,

State mandatory car seat laws have saved thousands of children's lives. However, there are still 1,800 deaths and over 280,000 injuries every year due to people either not restraining their kids or more likely - not restraining them properly.

When we have our kids, we are inundated with information about infant car safety seats and how to install them - straps just right, facing backward and at a certain angle. Heck, lots of hospitals even have someone on staff who will install the seat correctly for you before you take your baby home. We also know that our babies need to be turned around to forward-facing seats once they reach 20 pounds and 1 year of age.

But, at least in my experience, once our kids are in forward-facing car seats, the car seat safety educational campaigns seem to stop. We're left on our own to figure out when our kids don't need those seats any more. Unfortunately, many people seem to think that kids don't need any seat at all once they reach about 40 pounds or about 5 years of age. Many of the car seat safety resources out there briefly mention the importance of using a booster seat, but there is very little information specifically about older kids and the need for them to use a booster from the time they are about 40 pounds until they weigh 80 pounds, or are around 8 years old.

See, kids under 8 (generally speaking - your child may be bigger or smaller than the "average") just aren't tall or heavy enough to wear a regular seat belt properly. The belts and seats just aren't made for a child's frame. When a child is seated in a car without a booster seat, the seat belt does not fit across their chest properly. Instead, it goes across their neck. In a crash, that seat belt could become deadly - causing injuries to the neck and spine, strangulation, and even death.

Here are just a few tips for car seat safety for kids between 40 and 80 pounds, typically between ages 4 and 8.

* Never, ever let your child ride unrestrained. Most accidents occur within 5 miles of home on routine, every day trips. Could you live with yourself if you let it slide "just this one time" and your child was injured or killed?

* Once your child reaches about 40 pounds, continuing to use his previous car seat with the shield or 5-point harness is actually dangerous for him. It does *look* safer, but it isn't. His weight, in an impact, could cause the straps, latches, or shield to break - which is just like having no restraint on at all. (Many seats are made so that you can remove the straps and use it as a booster seat - if your child's seat is one of these, be sure to do this if your child is over 40 pounds.)

* Always use a shoulder-lap belt with the booster seat. Never use just a lap belt unless your seat's instructions say it's ok.

* Never let your kids ride in the front seat, especially if you have air bags. The impact of an air bag deploying is hard enough to snap a child's neck and can also suffocate him. Even without an air bag (and even restrained), in a high-impact crash, a child can hit the dash or windshield. In the back seat, at least they hit the back of the front seat, which is typically cushioned.

* There are basically two kinds of booster seats - backless and with a back. Your child can use one with a back (these are typically the converted car seats with straps removed) if his head is still below the top of the back of the seat. If any part of his head is higher than the back of the seat, it's time to get a backless booster.

* At 6, my child started complaining that car seats were for "babies," so we got him a backless version. It's a great compromise as your child gets older (and bigger). It boosts him so that the shoulder belt fits properly (which is the primary point of using a booster), but it is less visible to his friends -- who should be using them too, but often aren't. (If you can do it tactfully, it's worth it to tell the parents about the dangers of their kids riding without a booster.)

Please check out the resources below to learn more about the importance of using a booster seat for your child aged 4-8 weighing 40-80 pounds. If you have a child who should be using a booster seat, get one today. The backless versions are very inexpensive - less than the cost of a dinner out for two. And using it could save your child's life.

Another article about this:

Resources: - particularly the *Parent's Guide* section.


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