How Long Does a Child Need a Car Seat or Booster Seat?
Protecting Your Little Ones
As a caregiver or parent (whether biological, adoptive, or step), you want to keep your little ones safe wherever they are. We safety-proof our homes by blocking electrical outlets, locking cabinets containing household chemical supplies, and the list goes on. The same general safety concerns extend to the car. Why would you put your child into a moving metal death machine without protecting them for as long as possible?
Since laws vary by state, I will cover the laws in Ohio, which is where I live—but the laws are likely to be similar in your state. Many of these laws reflect general common sense when placing your precious cargo (i.e., children) into any moving vehicle. Be sure to check the laws in your state before making decisions about which type of seat your child(ren) should use.
Avoid Unnecessary Injury
Automobile accidents and crashes are the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 13 years old in the United States. The best way to keep them safe in a car is to put them in the right seat, at age-appropriate times by height and weight, and to use the seats properly.
Not only will your child ride safely, but you will create the foundation for good habits of seat belt use every time you or your children travel.
Ohio State Laws (Similar in Other States, But Do Check!)
- Children 4 years of age or less, or 40 pounds must use a child safety seat.
- Children less than 8 years old, unless they are at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall, must use booster seats.
- Children ages 8-15 must use a booster seat (or a regular seat that has a seat belt).
Fines typically range from $25-$75 per occurrence. Don't risk injury or tickets! No matter how much your 6-year-old begs to be out of the protective seat, don't allow it!
Use the Right Seat and Safety Belts
Birth-12 months: Children should always ride in a rear-facing car seat.
You should focus on keeping your child rear-facing for as long as possible.
1-3 years: Your child(ren) should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the top height and or weight limits permitted by the seat’s manufacturer. Once your child or children outgrow the rear-facing seat, they are ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.
4-7 years: Keep your children in forward-facing car seats with a harness until they reach the top height and or weight limit allowed by the seat’s manufacturer. Once your children outgrow the forward-facing seat with a harness, it’s time to purchase a booster seat, but your child should the remain in the back when traveling.
8-12 years: Keep your children in booster seats until they are big enough by weight and height to fit in a seat belt properly. If the seat belt is not fitting the way it should, it's not going to do the job it's intended to do, the lap belt must lie adequately across their upper thighs, not over their stomach. The shoulder belt should also lie easily across the shoulder and chest and not cross the face or neck. Don't forget: Your child should remain in the back seat because that is the safest place for them to be.
12-18 years: Keep your children in the back as often as possible, especially if they do not weigh over 100 lbs. Regardless of whether they are sitting in the front or the back, make sure the seat belt is functioning properly.
Car Seats by Age: Quick Reference
rear-facing car seat/back
as long as possible
rear-facing car seat/back
until reaching limits by weight or height
forward-facing car seat/back
until they outgrow, then booster seat
by height/weight limits
no special seat/back preferred
Other Safety Measures
- Use sunshades to protect your babies from glare and sun exposure in the car.
- Never leave your children in a car in high-temperature weather. Again, common sense here people.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2013 Rebecca