Is my child ready for an adult seat belt?
Is my child ready to move from a booster seat to an adult seat belt? How to I know I am making the right decision?
Commonly in New Zealand children are moved into using the adult seat belt far too early, some of this has to do with our law vs safety issues. Our law states that children must be in an approved child restraint until the age of 7, and if a seat is available until the age of 8. However - for safety we recommend children remain in a booster seat until they reach approximately 148cm. 148cm is quite tall! Most NZ children reach this milestone around 10-12 years old, which leaves a rather large gap between a safety recommendation and the law.
So how do I make a decision?
The 5 step test is what us, as technicians, will use to assess children and if they are ready to not use a booster. The image at the top of this page shows the 5 steps that we focus on and is from the Car Seat Lady. The steps are as follows:
- The child can sit on the vehicle seat and their back is fully against the back of the seat.
- The child's knees must bend over the edge of the seat comfortably. If their knees do not reach the edge of the seat, they are not yet big enough.
- The lap portion of the seat belt must be sitting over the top of the thighs. If this belt is sitting higher, or over the stomach the child is not yet big enough.
- The should or sash portion of the seat belt should sit neatly across the shoulder. If the belt is sitting close to the neck the child is too small.
- The child must be able to remain seated, and still for the whole journey in the car - if they wriggle and get themselves out of this position (of good belt fit), they are too small.
The 5-step test must be tried in all vehicles the child will travel in, and also in all positions of the car that the child might sit in. Each car, and every seat belt sits slightly differently - which makes it important to take the time to test things out before necessary.
If the child fails any of these steps as stated above they are too small to use an adult seat belt safely and they should remain using a booster seat.
So do I use a full-back booster, or a half booster for my big kid?
So you've made the decision that your child is not ready for an adult seat belt yet. But which booster seat do you use?
A full back booster seat provides extra side impact and head protection. It allows an even better seat belt fit for children and should be used until the child is completely outgrown the back portion of the booster.
They are outgrown this when they are no longer comfortable, or the seat belt is starting to come from below the shoulder - even when the head rest is completely extended.
A half booster is for our big kids! They are for when the child is outgrown a full-back booster, but does not 5-step in the car yet. These boost the child up slightly to ensure a good seat belt fit, however they do not provide any extra protection aside from seat belt fit.
They will often have a seat belt guide to use to assist with a correct fit - and you must use this.