A few days ago, my son Elias reached an important milestone: He turned 8.

In half of the states in America, kids turning 8 celebrate finally “freeing” themselves of the “constraint” of a booster seat. Yet as safety advocates and an increasing number of parents (and kids!) know, age has little to do with being able to ride safely in an adult seatbelt.

My own son has had vehicle safety driven into his head since the time he was born, and he does take it pretty seriously. Lately, though, even he has been longing to ditch his booster. I told him that on his birthday, we would check the fit in the regular seatbelt, just to see.

He’s familiar with the 5-step test kids need to pass before they can safely move into an adult seatbelt alone:

  • Child sits all the way back in the seat
  • Child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat
  • The lap belt sits low on the hips, touching the thighs (not on the tummy)
  • The shoulder belt crosses the middle of the shoulder (not falling off, and not rubbing the neck)
  • Child can sit that way for the entire ride

In my state, it’s actually part of the law that the seatbelt needs to fit properly before graduating from a booster seat, although most people (including lots of police officers) don’t realize that.

Elias is a tall kid: 54″ (90th percentile for 8-year-olds), so I worried a bit that he actually would fit well. But a promise is a promise, so here he is sitting in his usual position in the third row of our 2010 Honda Odyssey.

The lap belt is high, and the shoulder belt is on his neck. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but his knees aren’t anywhere near the edge of the seat.

I’ll admit I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw how horrible the fit was without the booster seat. Then I cringed, thinking of how many kids ride like this anyway.

Please make sure that your children fit properly in a seatbelt regardless of age, weight, or height, and remember that the fit might vary based on the vehicle and seating position. Needless to say, Elias is back in his booster and will remain there for quite some time.