Nothing will be more important to you than your child’s safety when traveling from A to B. For this reason, you will want to ensure they are sitting in the best seat possible when transporting them to school, the store, or on a fun family road trip in the US or beyond.
If you have next to no knowledge of the safety requirements when traveling with children, you might be unsure about whether to buy a car seat or booster for your son or daughter.
To help you make an informed choice and ensure their safety at all times, find out more about the booster seat vs car seat debate.
The Car Seat Stages
There are currently three basic types of car seats for children, and the option you choose should be determined by their age, weight and height.
The three stages are:
- Rear-facing car seats (faces the rear of a car)
- Forward-facing (faces the front of a car)
- Booster (faces the front of a car)
It is important to keep a child in each stage for as long as possible. A rear-facing car seat is undoubtedly the safest option, so don’t be eager to buy and fit a forward-facing car seat.
The CDC also recommends children remain in a forward-facing car seat until they are at least five years old or whenever they exceed the upper weight and height limit for a seat. Once they have outgrown their seat, replace it with a booster seat and make sure your child is safely buckled into a back seat.
What is a Booster Seat?
As stated, it is important to keep a child in a rear or forward-facing car seat for as long as possible. However, once a child has outgrown their forward-facing seat with a harness, they will need to move onto a booster seat. According to the AAP, booster seats are only for older children who exceed the weight and height for a car seat.
A booster seat is a seat cushion that elevates a child in a car. You can also choose from two different designs: high-back boosters and backless boosters.
Both have their benefits. For example, high-back boosters provide greater head and neck protection during travel and are ideal for vehicles that do not feature headrests. While backless boosters are better suited to vehicles with headrests and are a more affordable alternative for families.
The NHTSA also believes the ideal age range to move a child to a booster seat is between four to seven years old. The booster must also remain in the back seat of a vehicle, and you must use a full harness until your son or daughter has outgrown it. Once their weight and height exceed the car booster, you must ensure they wear a seat belt at all times in a vehicle.
How to Fit a Car Seat
Regardless of whether your child is sitting in a car seat or a booster seat, you must make sure they are safe and secure in a car.
For example, when fitting a car seat, you must make sure:
- The harness straps are placed through the slots either at or below your baby’s shoulders.
- The straps are lying flat against your child’s body
- You cannot pinch any extra material at their shoulders
- The chest clip is at your child’s armpit level
If in doubt, visit an NHTSA car seat inspection station near you, as a certified technician can teach you how to successfully install and use a car seat free of charge. Remember, regardless of whether you own a vehicle or are renting a car, you must install a car seat or booster seat to ensure your child’s safety when on the road.
The CDC also requires children under the age of 13 years old to ride in a back seat of a car, regardless of whether they are in a car seat, booster seat or are using a seat belt. This is because airbags can potentially cause physical injuries and fatalities to young children who are riding in the front seat of a vehicle.
Know the Differences
There are many differences between car seats and boosters. It is important to keep your child in a car seat for as long as possible, starting with a rear-facing seat before moving onto a forward-facing seat with a harness strap. Only once your child has exceeded a manufacturer’s height and weight limit for a car seat should you move onto a booster.