Did you know that seat belts are designed to be worn by adults who are at least 4 feet and 9 inches tall? Seat belts are made to fit with the lap belt going over the lower hips and the shoulder belt going across the shoulder. Seat belts aren’t designed fit children. Instead of fitting properly over the lower hips, the lap belt rides over the soft tissues of the abdomen and can cause severe injury or death. The shoulder portion of the belt hits the child’s neck or face instead of lying flat across the chest. This causes many children to place the shoulder belt behind their back, leaving them with no upper body protection. In a crash, children who are incorrectly restrained by a lap/shoulder belt are likely to sustain serious injuries to internal organs, as well as the head and spinal cord. In fact, these abdominal and spinal injuries are medically referred to as “Seat Belt Syndrome.”
What can a parent do to prevent this kind of terrible injury? Booster seats! A booster seat ‘boosts’ the child up so the lap/shoulder belt will fit correctly and provide protection in a crash. Using a booster seat can protect a child from being thrown around the vehicle or being totally ejected in a collision.
Motor vehicle crashes continue to be one of the leading causes of death and injury for children 14 and under. Car seats, including boosters, are proven to be effective in preventing injuries and deaths, and studies show that booster seats can reduce the risk of injury by 59 percent. But children in this age group are the least likely to be properly restrained. Surveys conducted during 2016 by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that only 31.8% of 5-9 year olds in Texas were correctly restrained. In Texas, fatalities in the 5-9-year-old age group are nearly twice as high as the national rate.
The law in Texas requires children under 8 years old, unless taller than 4 feet 9 inches, to be in a child restraint system according to the manufacturer’s instructions. According to the law, an 8-year-old can legally ride in the seat belt, but only a small percentage of 8 year olds are 4 feet 9 inches tall. The average child reaches 4 feet 9 inches at age 11! Best practice is to keep the child in a booster seat until the lap/shoulder belts fits, which is usually sometime between ages 8-12.
When is your child ready for the seat belt? Take the Five Step Test:
Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
- Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle?
- Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
- Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
- Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to make both
the shoulder belt and the lap belt fit right for the best crash protection. Your child will be more comfortable, too!
Contact Kate Whitney at the Extension Office at 254-435-2331 for a free child safety seat inspection. The Extension Office can help with providing a booster seat if a family cannot afford one.