If your child is less than 4 feet, 9 inches tall and has outgrown the weight and height limits of the forward-facing car seat, it’s time to transition to a backseat booster.
When several people, be it mothers, fathers, grandparents or babysitters are caring for a child, things like this can get confusing. Several concerns with travel safety may arise.
A consistent transportation plan is especially critical when traveling with children who feel too independent for a car seat or booster.
“Our older girls, who are now 9 and 7, have absolutely no issues with staying buckled in at all times. However, our 2-year-old daughter discovered how to unbuckle the top strap on her car seat, and once I had to immediately stop the car,” says Sarah Strayer, Palm Beach County mother of three.
This experience has led her to caution parents to prepare ahead and never assume all children will behave the same way in the car.
Grandparents can prepare for car trips to make the experience enjoyable for all.
“Be sure to stock up and pack the pockets behind the front seat with cardboard books,” says Ann Pennington, Palm Beach County grandmother of five children up to age 9. She switches her book selections up every now and then.
Kelly Powell, program director for Safe Kids Palm Beach County, answers the above questions and others:
Q: What are some rules for car seats and boosters that parents should enforce when someone else travels with their child?
A: Confirm that family all buckles up and follows the law on every trip. Ask the difficult questions. You need to find out if they follow the same rules as your own family. Everyone your child rides with should have your family’s same safety priorities. Be aware of parental driving behaviors and family lifestyles. You need to be very familiar with whom your kids are riding because you want them safe on every ride. If your child is invited on a playdate after school, ask if they have an extra booster seat for your child. If not, ask if they will use one if you send one.
Create and enforce a family transportation plan that everyone discusses and agrees to and that applies to every ride, for every person. Talk about how no one should ever text and drive. Avoid distractions. Make safe choices. Discuss the importance of keeping everyone safely buckled at all times without exception, even the parents.
Q: How can a parent best handle a tough conversation with a grandparent or elder who thinks using a car seat or booster seat is unnecessary because they didn’t use them when raising kids?
A: Research shows that having a child properly secured in a child restraint will decrease injury and increase survival rates. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death to children ages 2 to 14 and the leading cause of injury-related deaths for children under 2. Road injuries are the leading cause of unintentional deaths to children in the United States. Correctly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent. Most grandparents today didn’t grow up using seat belts for their kids because there wasn’t this extensive research, and also families weren’t on the road as much. We spend much more of our time in cars now, and we know that seat belts and car seats absolutely save lives.
Q: What should parents do if they notice adults, especially from school or sports/activity carpools, not using car seats or boosters appropriately when transporting multiple children for events?
A: Talk directly to administrators about your school’s transportation safety plan. Does it specify that everyone in the car must buckle up on every ride using the right car seat, booster seat or seat belt for each person’s age and size? If not, then have a direct conversation about the rules of the road. Children must use a car seat, booster seat or seat belt, and always ride in a backseat and never in front of an airbag. Car seats should have all of their parts, labels and instructions and should have never been in a crash. Children should never be left alone in a car.
For traveling with sports groups, make a carpooling transportation plan similar to your family and school transportation plans. If parents don’t want to be a part of the plan, then they don’t need to be part of the carpooling group.
Q: When using public transportation with a baby or young child, such as a taxi, Uber or bus, should a parent bring a car seat or booster? What if there are no seat belts to secure it? Is it better to hold the baby or put them in the car seat?
A: Just because you are in someone else’s car, you are not in a magic bubble. It is your parental responsibility to make sure your child is buckled safely on every ride in the appropriate child restraint. No matter where you are going, follow your family transportation plan.
On public transportation, it is a good idea to use the car seat or at least a seat belt whenever available, primarily because you are creating good repetition for your child. Buses are much heavier than cars and do absorb crash forces differently, so it is not legally required to have a child restraint.
Q: What should parents know about longer trips that require an airline flight or rental car?
A: Most airlines do not require a child to be in a car seat. Because many devices are large, most won’t fit in a seat. When we buckle up on airlines, we are primarily protecting ourselves from turbulence because most airline crashes are deemed unsurvivable. If you are traveling with your own car seat and not using it on the plane, it is recommended that you gate-check it to keep it on top of the baggage stack and prevent damage.
If someone is picking you up at the airport and you don’t bring your own car seat, ensure the driver will have the appropriate, safe car seat for your child. Take time to make a plan regarding if the car seat will already be installed or if you will be installing it yourself. If renting one from a car rental company, make sure it is an up-to-date model.
Q: Are there any quick and easy resources to determine the right size/type of a car seat or booster for a child? Is it based on age, height or other factors?
A: Visit Safe Kids for the most current information. In Palm Beach County, we have a number of child safety seat inspections offered to the community throughout the year. Call Safe Kids Palm Beach County at 561-841-3500, extension 4012, to find the closest location. You can also find inspection locations by downloading Children's Services Council's SafeMap smartphone app for free in the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. Many local inspection stations offer new seats at a discounted price.
Big kids use forward-facing car seats. Use the top tether designed for the seat and have your child remain in this car seat until he or she outgrows the harness. Many harnesses go to 50 pounds or more.
If your child is less than 4 feet, 9 inches tall and has outgrown the weight and height limits of the forward-facing car seat, transition to a backseat booster. The child should ride on the booster using a seat belt with lap and shoulder straps. The lap belt sits low on the hips, not on the stomach. The shoulder belt is on the shoulder, not on the neck, under the arm or behind the back. The seat belt is snug, flat and comfortable. He may be between 8 and 12 years of age before the seat belt fits.
Kids are ready for seat belts after they have outgrown the booster seat and are more than 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Always have your child ride in the backseat until age 13. Make sure his back is firmly against the seat back, knees bent at the front edge of the seat, and that he can sit this way for the whole ride. Use a booster if the seat belt is not snug, flat and comfortable.
• Kelly Powell, program director, Safe Kids Palm Beach County