Parents Need a “Booster”

Many parents may be confused about how to use a booster seat and whether their kid should be riding in one. According to a series of snap polls conducted by Autobytel during National Child Passenger Safety Week, only 37% of parents felt confident that their boosters were properly installed. Over 40% were either mistaken or unsure how to tell if a child was ready to move from a booster seat to a safety belt. Throw in the alarming fact that an estimated 73% of kids who should be riding in boosters are not; it quickly becomes clear that parents are in serious need of a “booster” on booster seat safety to keep from putting kids at serious risk in an automobile accident.

With this in mind, Autobytel has launched its new “Booster Seat Safety Center” on their homepage, . This site features in-depth booster seat instruction and advice from Alisa Baer – a.k.a. “The Car Seat Lady”. Alisa, an NYU medical student and nationally recognized car-seat expert, has been featured in The New Yorker and made appearances on MSNBC and Fox News. Autobytel’s new site utilizes scientific research to answer parents most pressing booster seat questions including proper installation, usage, and positioning. As well, the site offers a short quiz to help parents know if their child is ready to graduate from a booster seat to a safety belt.

Visit the Autobytel web site for more in-depth booster seat safety information.


Presented by  and Alisa Baer (a.k.a. “The Car Seat Lady”)

4- to 8-year-old kids are MUCH safer riding in a booster. A 2003 study found that 4-8 year olds riding in boosters are 59% less likely to be seriously injured in a crash than those wearing safety belts alone.

73% of kids who NEED a booster seat to ride safely are NOT in boosters. Most kids between the ages of 4-8 should be riding in boosters. Yet while 78% of 4-year-olds use booster seats, the number drops to 65% of 5-year-olds, 43% of 6-year-olds, and 21% of 7-year-olds. Only 11% of 8-year-olds are still riding in booster seats. The result? The motor vehicle occupant death rate for 5- to 9-year-olds has changed little in the past decade, while deaths among other younger child age groups have greatly declined. 63% of the kids who died in car accidents were unrestrained, while most of the remaining 37% were inappropriately restrained using safety belts instead of boosters.

It is absolutely crucial to use a booster on EVERY trip, even ones where you’re not going very far or very fast. Studies show this is actually when you are MOST likely to be involved in a crash.

For children over 40 pounds, their weight is irrelevant to whether or not they need a booster seat. How they fit on the vehicle seat and how the safety belt fits on their body are what matters. These variables depend more on the vehicle and the child’s height than anything else. The best way to gauge whether your child still needs a booster is to take the excellent 5-step-test from SafetyBeltSafe USA. (Notice there is no mention of weight, height, or age in the test questions).

The 5-Step Test ©SafetyBeltSafe USA:

1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?

2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?

3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?

4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?

5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

If you answered “no” to ANY of these questions, your child still needs a booster seat, regardless of age or weight, to make sure that both the shoulder and the lap belts fit correctly for the best possible crash protection. NOTE: It is important, however, to make sure your child weighs less than the maximum weight on your booster. This is usually 80-100 pounds, although some seats have significantly lower limits.

A booster seat is very easy to use. Just place the booster on the vehicle seat, have the child sit on the booster seat, then buckle the child using the vehicle’s shoulder and lap belt. Make sure that the lap belt rests on the tops of the child’s legs, and that the shoulder belt crosses the child’s chest between the neck and shoulder. If your booster has armrests, the lap belt should pass underneath them. If your child’s booster has a guide for the shoulder belt that allows the belt to retract freely, place the shoulder belt in this guide. If the booster has a guide for the shoulder belt that holds the belt firmly, i.e. – it doesn’t let the slack out of the retractable shoulder belt mechanism, don’t use this guide, unless the shoulder belt is otherwise improperly positioned on the child.

Booster seats ARE SAFE, even though they may seem less secure than child restraints. Booster seats are designed to work very differently from child restraints that have their own harness straps. A booster seat doesn’t restrain the child. Instead keeps the safety belt positioned so it can work properly in the event of a crash or abrupt stop, positioning the belt over the strong bones: the collar bone (clavicle), chest bone (sternum), and hip bones (pelvis).

State laws governing booster seat usage rarely coincide with the safest booster seat practices. Your state law might specify that kids over 4 don’t need a booster. The state where your parents live might say that kids over 6 don’t need a booster. But of course when you cross state lines, kids don’t change and neither do the laws of physics. The safest approach, once again, is to take the ©SafetyBeltSafe USA’s 5-step test (see above). This will let you know if your child is safe to ride without a booster seat, no matter in which state they live.

Kids actually like boosters. Generally speaking, a booster seat provides a more enjoyable riding experience for kids. They can ride comfortably because they don’t have to slouch to allow their knees to bend. They can also look out of the window more easily. Many booster models even have cup holders to store toys/drinks. As well, high-back versions give kids a place to rest their heads when they want to take a nap in the car.

A higher price does not necessarily equal a safer or better fitting seat. Most backless boosters cost $15-25. Many excellent high-back boosters only cost $25-50. The bottom line: You don’t need to break the bank to make a sound investment in your child’s safety.

Kids NEED upper body restraint! It is EXTREMELY dangerous to put the shoulder belt behind the back or under the arm is. As well, using only a lap belt is MUCH less safe than using a shoulder/lap belt. Many parents worry that the shoulder belt rubbing the child‚s neck might be dangerous. They feel it could lead to spinal cord injury or even decapitation in a crash. These fears are completely unfounded. There is little, if any, evidence in the literature of cervical spine (neck) injuries resulting from poor positioning of the shoulder belt near the child’s neck in situations where the child‚s head does not strike anything in the vehicle. A shoulder belt that touches the side of the neck is also not likely to cause injury unless the belt is very loose.

For Autobytel’s in-depth booster seat safety information and resources, visit 


Durbin DR, Elliott MR, Winston FK.; Belt-positioning Booster Seats and Reduction in Risk of Injury Among Children in Vehicle Crashes. JAMA. 2003 Jun 4; 289(21): 2835-40. PMID 12783914

Slavik D., Cervical Distraction Injuries to Children. Society of Automotive Engineers; 1997. Paper 973306

Weber K., Crash Protection for Child Passengers: A Review of Best Practice. UMTRI Research Review. 2000 July-Sept: 31(3): 1-28.


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