When Should Kids Stop Using Car Seats?

Kids - When Car Seats are Needed

If you’ve got kids, you’re probably already well versed on the critical importance of ensuring that you don’t so much as back out of your driveway without ensuring they’re properly secured in their car seats. But there’s actually a lot more to kids and car seats than you may know – including guidelines that tell you when it’s safe for them to graduate from car seat to booster seat, and from booster seat to seat belt.

Here’s the vital information that will keep your kids safe while you’re on the road. We explore age, weight and height when determining how seats face (rear, front, booster) and the type of seat. 

  • Rear Facing Car Seats – If your child is under the age of one, he or she should ride only in a rear facing car seat. Rear facing car seats offer a much greater level of protection to babies from both debris and impact. The best place to put a rear facing car seat isn’t in the empty seat next to you, but in your vehicle’s back seat. While this might seem counterintuitive – with your baby in the backseat you can’t exactly tend to them while you drive – this scenario provides much greater protection in the event of an accident.
  • Front Facing Car Seats – When your child reaches the age of one, it’s time to graduate them from a rear facing child safety seat to a front facing one. This particular phase should last until they hit the ripe old age of four. As always, the safest place for your child is in the back seat of your vehicle.
  • Booster Seats – Most children outgrow their car seats by the time they reach the age of four. Once this happens, it’s time to put away the car seat and introduce them to the intermediate stage of booster seats. A booster seat is necessary to ensuring that your car’s seatbelt isn’t dangerously positioned across your child’s neck, which has the potential to bring great injury in an impact. The booster seat phase usually lasts through the age of eight, although you may want to continue using one if your child hasn’t yet grown to the point of being able to sit safely with a standard seatbelt harness on.
  • Standard Seat Belts – Most children are ready to do away with their booster seats when they turn eight or they reach a height adequate enough to ensure there’s no danger of neck injury in an accident.
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Some kids grow much faster than others. Therefore it’s important to factor in your child’s weight and height when determining if they’re ready to be moved from car seat to booster seat and beyond. Here’s how the weight and size requirements break down for kids and car seats.

  • Rear facing child seats should be used for all children under 20 pounds.
  • Your child should be moved to a front facing car seat once they weigh more than 20 pounds, whether they’re still a bit shy of their first birthday or long past it.
  • Place your child in a booster seat once they’re over 40 pounds or too tall to fit safely into their child seat. Keeping a child in a car seat after they’ve outgrown it can result in serious injury if you’re involved in an accident.
  • Once your child reaches a height of 4’9” they’re officially ready to be strapped in without the assistance of a booster seat. As a guideline, the seatbelt should be able to fit low across their lap. Continue to use a booster seat if the lap belt crosses their stomach or waist.

As a general rule, always insist that your children ride with the proper level of safety restraints. Accidents happen, and even fender benders at low speeds can result in serious injury. Teaching your kids to remain strapped in is a lesson that will stick with them for the rest of their lives, keeping them safe long after they’ve slid behind the wheel themselves.