Car Safety for Your 5-Year-Old
Your little one is off to school, learning new things and changing every day, but she's not quite ready to give up her car seat. Even though moving on to a booster seat is an exciting milestone, it's best to keep your child in a car seat as long as it still fits.
How to Decide What Type of Car Seat to Use
Choosing a car seat is less about age and more about size. All car seats have weight and height limits. Your child can ride safely in the car seat until he either outgrows the maximum height or weighs more than the maximum weight capacity of the seat.
So what does that mean for your 5-year-old? It really comes down to the model of car seat you have. If his current forward-facing car seat has a weight capacity that is higher than his current weight and a height limit above his current height, he can still ride in it. A forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness system is the safest option, so keep him there if possible.
But many kids are nearing the weight limit by around age 5. If you want to keep your child in a forward-facing car seat a little longer, look for a model with an extended weight and height capacity. Some models work for children up to 80 pounds or more.
If your 5-year-old maxes out on the limits of the forward-facing car seat, you can make the switch to a belt-positioning booster seat. Just keep in mind you lose the protection of the five-point harness system when you switch to the booster seat.
Forward-Facing Car Seat
Your child may start with a rear-facing-only or convertible car seat as a baby. These seats usually have a lower weight limit than forward-facing-only car seats. The forward-facing-only seats are specially designed for kids who are at least 40 pounds and old enough to face forward. Many go up to at least 80 pounds.
Experts recommend keeping your child in the forward-facing car seat as long as possible. If you look around your child's classroom or day care room, you can easily see the variation in height and weight among her peers. Don't worry about what the other parents of 5-year-olds are doing. Keep an eye on your own child's development and the specific limits for her car seat to know how long she can ride in it. Besides height and weight limits, your child has outgrown the car seat if her shoulders are higher than the top harness slot or the tops of her ears are the same height or higher than the top of the seat.
The straps on forward-facing car seats should generally hit at or above your 5-year-old's shoulders. Check your manual to see if you need to use a specific harness slot. Adjust the reclining position of the seat, so your child can sit in an upright position. The anchors in the LATCH system built into cars are designed for a maximum of 65 pounds, including your child and the car seat. If your 5-year-old rides in a car seat with an extended weight limit and nears this maximum, switch to using the car's seat belt to secure the seat instead of the LATCH anchors.
Belt-Positioning Booster Seat
If your 5-year-old reaches the weight or height limit on his forward-facing car seat, transition him to a belt-positioning booster seat. The booster seat raises your child high enough to safely use the car's seat belt. Some forward-facing car seats convert to belt-positioning boosters to make the transition easier.
Most booster seats sit on the car's seat without any kind of anchoring. The car's seat belt holds your child and the booster seat. Many models have clips or guides to help you correctly position the seat belt. The belt should fit low and snug on your 5-year-old's upper thighs. The shoulder section should not touch your child's neck but should cross the chest and shoulder.
Your child should stay in a booster seat until the seat belt fits properly without it. For most kids, that happens around a height of 4 feet, 9 inches or around age 8 to 12. Even after your child outgrows a booster seat, it's important for him to stay in the back seat until age 13.