Don't move kids to a booster seat too soon! A refresher course from CBB reader Andrea

05/27/2008 at 12:50 PM ET

HarnessWe received so much positive feedback following our recent posts on car seat safety (read about rear-facing as long as possible and basic car safety tips), as well as so many questions about the appropriate time to move kids up to a booster seat and/or adult seatbelt, CBB reader Andrea has graciously agreed to provide us with some additional information.  In part one of a two-part series, Andrea cautions against the dangers of using a booster seat before a child is truly ready.

by CBB Reader Andrea, Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST)

Child passenger safety advocates recommend keeping children in 5-point harnessed car seats until at least 4 years and 40 lbs.  With more and more car seats now accomodating children past 40 lbs. many children are able to stay in 5-point harnessed car seats until age 6 or even longer (see picture at left).  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ride in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until the seat is outgrown.

For more, click ‘continue reading.’

3_booster SafeKids USA recommends using harnessed car seats as long as possible before ‘graduating’ to belt-positioning booster seats.  Each step ‘up’ in car seats — from rear-facing to forward-facing, from forward-facing to booster, from booster to seat belt — is a significant step ‘down’ in safety.

Pictured: Andrea’s son in a forward-facing car seat (above left), booster seat (right), and seat belt (below left).

Booster seats can only protect children if they hold the adult seat belt in the proper position. Younger children are generally less mature and are often unable to sit still in a booster seat, allowing the seat belt to slip out of the proper position.  In addition, younger children may be irritated by the seat belt in a poorly fitting booster and may attempt to put the shoulder portion of the belt behind them. This effectively puts them in a lap-only belt and can cause serious injuries in the event of even a minor crash. Too-young children in boosters can also be a major distraction to a driver, putting everyone in the vehicle at risk.

2_seat_belt_2According to the Kyle David Miller Foundation, a child passenger safety advocacy group, Tom Bologna, President of Britax USA said that children under 7-10 years of age should not be placed into a booster seat. This is because the child’s iliac crest (hip bones) are not yet developed enough such that they prevent the adult seatbelt from resting on the soft abdomen.  Therefore an adult seatbelt provides insufficient protection to the child and could result in internal injuries, possibly resulting in the death of the child.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a leading researcher in the field of child passenger safety, says that although many children after age 4 are in adult seat belts, the best protection for children aged 4 to 8 are either child safety seats with a harness or belt-positioning booster seats — depending on the child’s size.

See the difference between a 5-point harness car seat and a booster seat using an adult seat belt.  It’s easy to see what the safer choice is.  Watch these videos to learn more about what can happen when children move to booster seats too early:

Belle’s Gift
– Kyle David Miller’s story

In Andrea’s next installment, she’ll bring you information about when it’s safe for children to use a booster seat, as well as when it’s safe for an older child to use the adult seat belt, only.


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Showing 28 comments

MommyX1 on

I just wanted to point out that the chest clip in the picture is WAY too low. It should be at armpit level.

Cordelia's Mommy on

My almost 5 year old daughter (on July 18th) asks me about a booster seat at least once a week. Many of her preschool friends, even younger/smaller than her, seem to be getting them. Cordelia is only 42 inches tall and weighs 36 pounds. She can be as disappointed as she needs to be, but I am not getting her a booster seat. Her Britax Marathon seat goes up to 65 pounds. and she isn’t even at the highest shoulder strap position yet. as far as I’m concerned, she’ll be in this seat for many many years to come (though I may purchase a new seat cover as hers is pretty dirty and maybe she’ll like it better with a different fabric). any ideas on where to get some pretty new seat covers?

MommyX2 on

Cordelia’s Mommy – You can find many different Britax covers on ebay, and I’m sure other websites as well. Just make sure that when you get a new cover it is only one that is a Britax cover, not a different company or homemade, etc. Using a different cover voids your warranty and is also not made to Britax standards(fire resistance, etc.)

ryansmom on

My son was in a car seat until he was 7 years, 2 months. He was in a Britax Marathon carseat that I got when he was 3 years old! Best $200+ I ever spent.

He’s now 48 inches and weighs 46 pounds, and is finally in a booster seat. I would have kept him still in the Marathon since it goes all the way up to 65 lbs, except he got so tall and his ears were above the top of the carseat.

Kim on

Car seat safety is something I’ve been extremely passionate about since my son was born almost 3 years ago. He will be in a 5 point harness until 65 pounds. That being said, the story about Kyle is devastating, however, from what I understand it was the car seat belt that malfunctioned and caused his death. I actually talked to the Highway Patrol officer about his story when my son’s seat was installed recently. He said it’s very uncommon for the car seat belt to malfunction, which is another reason to tether your car seats, for extra reinforcement.

Shmoo on

I do not live in the US, and am in a remote community. First, I was unable to find a rear facing carseat that would fit in the backseat of my small car. Later, I was unable to find a five point harness seat that fit my then 40 pound child. The shoulder harnesses were too low, and the seat did not have adequate depth. Now the problem with his belt positioning booster is that during the 24 or more hour drives (not including stops)to outside communities, he gets very sore, because the padding over the hard plastic is so thin, especially on chip seal, gravel or pot-holed road surfaces. I’m a nurse, and what I saw on him after were stage one pressure sores. I found it very frustrating to find seats online that would meet our needs, but either they were extremely expensive, and/or the site did not ship to my country. I know that more products are available all the time, but I don’t know how to access them.

tink1217 on

My son was in some kind of car seat until he was 8 yrs old. He didn’t mind at all. I had one that went up to 100 pounds actually. he is special needs and short for his age so the seatbelts in our SUV and minivan were just not at the appropriate location for being safe. So, we kept him in a booster for as long as possible. Once he got tall enough we used the regular seatbelt. And, always the back seat or middle seats. he didn’t start riding in the front seat until 2 yrs ago when he was 15.

Jen on

The Britax Marathon is a fantastic seat. I told a family member recently that she should go with the Marathon instead of the roundabout as the marathon will take her daughter up to 65lbs (instead of the 40lbs on the roundabout). You can get new covers on the Britax website or even ebay. I’ve seen a few new ones on ebay (you can sometimes even find those discontinued patterns).

EBB on

The chest clip may be a little low, but no it’s not WAY too low.

Andrea, thank you for writing this series! Even if it helps just one person, you’ve done a great job. :o)

Kat on

Im so happy to see all this attention on car seat safety!! Its LONG over due.

We believe in rear facing until the limits of our seats and extended harnessing. My oldest is in a Britax Regent (harness to roughly 80lbs) and will be in it until she grows out of it.

Christina on

Great post! I have my almost 6 year old in a Britax Regent, he doesn’t mind one bit! I just educated him on how the seat is “safe” and now he prefers that seat to his back up booster (with a back) seat that we have and never use. My 6 month old is in a Britax Marathon and will remain rear facing till at least 18-24 months just like his brother did!

Andrea CPST on

Yes, his chest clip is a tad low – I didn’t notice that until I was reviewing the pictures from this little photo session. (He did NOT ride with it like that.) Normally it’s a about an inch higher.

However, I have found that the chest clip often looks low with older kids (my son is 7) – I think that’s because we’re not used to seeing that much of the strap above the chest clip.

Thanks, Celebrity Baby Blog, for giving me the chance to get these important messages to so many moms!

Mary on

Can you please tell me what car seat that is in the first picture.

My son is only 4, but he is big – 49 pounds and 45 inches tall. We had a Marathon, but he was just not comfortable in it.


Kate CPST on

One note… PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR KIDDOS HAVEN’T OUTGROWN THEIR SEATS BY HEIGHT BEFORE WEIGHT!!! Some of the comments are making me a bit scared… most 5 year olds won’t fit in a marathon – they will generally outgrow them by height way before the 65lb weight limit. Harness straps MUST be at or ABOVE the shoulders to prevent spinal decompression. There are some excellent higher weight seats that have taller harnesses – Graco nautilus (pictured), Britax Frontier, and the Britax Regent are all taller harnessed seats.

It’s better for a child who fits in a booster to be in a booster then a seat that they’ve outgrown by height.

Kat on

I agree… check the limits of your seat and make sure that your child meets all of them.

Also make sure the seat is properly installed.

we have the same seat (the graco nautilus) shown above… it’s fabulous… our 8yr old is in the 98th percentile for height and is in a seatbelt, and our 6.5yr old (also tall for his age) is in a backless booster (his new taller booster… the Sunshine Kids Monterey… is in the mail).

It’s so important to wait until the child is really ready to make the move to the next step.

My daughter, our youngest, will be harnessed until she outgrows the harnesses of her Nautilus… most likely around age 6-8yrs old…. then she’ll use it as a booster.

Kristin on

the first car seat is the Graco Nautilus. I love that seat. I plan on keeping my daughter in a harness as long as I can. Many people think im nuts for that.

Thank you for posting these. I see so many people doing lots of things wrong. Can you do one about after market products that the celebritys are using. They are so not safe.

Christine on

For those wondering, the first picture is a Graco Nautilus. Harnesses to 65 lbs, booster to 100 lbs. Great seat for under $150. Yes, the chest clip appears a little low, but when I look closely it is at armpit level.

Andrea, great article! Keep up the good work!

Kate, great reminder. Seats are outgrown when the child hits the height or weight limit, which ever comes first. Many heigh weight seats are outgrown by height before weight.

Lanna on

I’d be curious to see a review of the new Britax Frontier (has higher harness slots than the Nautilus – my kids always outgrow height limits years before weight limits)… That’s what we’re thinking of putting out 4.5yo in when I need his Marathon for his younger brother in a few months. I’m keeping my wiggly kiddo in a 5-pt harness for as long as humanly possible, and since we homeschool and don’t do preschool, he doesn’t know any different and is just excited about the possibility of having a red carseat. 🙂

Amelia on

Actually, the Frontier and the Nautilus have almost the same top harness slot height (around 18.25″). If anything, the top slot on the Nautilus is a fraction higher than the Frontier. : )

Thanks so much for this series on car seat safety – our kids deserve to have parents as informed as possible when it comes to their safety!

Kristin on


I belive the Frontier and the Nautilus have the same harness slots but I may be wrong. Check out they have lots of reviews of both seats.

Lorus on

My older daughter grew out of her Britax Marathon in height at 6y4m which is when I switched her into a Britax Regent to keep her harnessed in my car. She rides in a Britax Parkway booster in my husband’s car which she isn’t in that often.
My daughter also extended rear faced in her Marathon. I love that seat!

Thank you for posting this as I know it will reach thousands of families. Car crashes are the #1 killer of kids under the age of 15. We are so careful not to leave young children alone in the bath because of drowning yet too many parents put their kids in boosters too young which is a WAY bigger threat to their lives.

Terri on

I know she’s unusual but my almost 7 yr old granddaughter still fits fine in her Marathon. It all depends on torso height. She has another 1/2 inch before her shoulders are even with the top slot.

Great article!

mdterp on

My daughter is 4 years old and we switched to the Britax Regent a few months ago. We absolutely LOVE this seat. It is expensive but this will be her last car seat that she is in and she will use it for a while. Most of her pre-school friends are in boosters without a 5 point harness and that just scares me. The Regent is like a booster but has a 5 point harness and it makes both me and my daughter feel secure.

Sandy on

Kate CPST–There are plenty of children who can fit in a marathon past age 4. My daughter turned 7 in April and she still fits in her Marathon. I promised her a booster for her birthday, though, so that’s where she is now. My son is almost 5 and still has plenty of room in his Marathon. He’s 39 inches tall and 32 lbs.

Every child is different.

carseats19 on

Hi Every one, Good stuff on kids car seats and its benefits.This will helpful for most of the parents who want know about the kids car seats. The Information you provided about the different variety of car seats for kids is very useful and informative for every parent.

afriend on

It doesn’t sound like there are any nay-sayers on this post, but I thought I would share my story to help drive the point home. I am 32 years old and grew up in the rural midwest.

When I was 5, less than a month away from 6 my mother and I were in a car accident where I was sitting in the front seat. We hit a tree on the side of the road (the lesser of two evils in this case a semi being the other option). The impact was on my side of the car. Had I not worn my seatbelt I would have been thrown into the windshield.

During this era in time boosters were unheard of and car seats were just starting to reach the market. The resulting injuries of my accident were definitely exactly what they describe in this and other articles. I now have a half of a stomach and had to have a spinal fusion. I spent 9 weeks in the hospital recovering and had 4 surgeries, all before my 7th birthday. I was a tall kid, not heavy but tall and it didn’t keep me in the right place for sure.

Now I am a nanny and a big advocate for placing children in THE MOST appropriate safety devices in a car. I have even taken the responsibility on my shoulders and purchased top notch car seats for use with the children I care for so that moving seats around isn’t necessary.

Moni on

I’m hoping to get a response… My son is three (4 in January). He weighs 36lbs and is 37″ tall. I noticed today that his shoulders are taller than the highest slot point for the harness. I am a single mother that can’t afford to buy a $200-$300 car seat to accomedate His height either, not when I’m paying for everything on my own. I can’t afford the britax that everyone seems to recommend… What would you recommend

Ivans mommy on

I’m hoping to get a response… My son is three (4 in January). He weighs 36lbs and is 37″ tall. I noticed today that his shoulders are taller than the highest slot point for the harness. I am a single mother that can’t afford to buy a $200-$300 car seat to accomedate His height either, not when I’m paying for everything on my own. I can’t afford the britax that everyone seems to recommend… What would you recommend