I’ve been patiently waiting, just like other parents, for my oldest child to grow up—he’s 10 and a half now (born New Year’s Eve, 1999, and yes, we had our bathtub filled with water—did you?). I know, I know. They’re only little once, I should appreciate him being small while he is, yada yada yada. Small is not a word I’ve ever associated with my ds. He was big from the get-go and only got bigger, lol. Since I’ve been a child passenger safety technician for most of my ds’s life, I’ve had a keen interest in how he fits in carseats and vehicles. Now that he’s 4’11.5”, he’s tall enough to be riding in just an adult seatbelt, right?
You’d think so. When he’s walking around in his shoes, he’s definitely 5’ tall, little bugger. He’s catching up to me and is taller than some women already. Generally the only kids taller than him in his class at school are the girls. So why is he still in his backless booster when he’s clearly over 4’9” and close to 80 lbs., which is what NHTSA tells us is the safe height for kids to move out of boosters? Even the Ad Council has these great ads educating us about 4’9”. Twenty states have laws based on 4’9” and of those twenty, five states have added provisions about 80 lbs.: children must ride in boosters or some other form of child restraint until they meet the height and/or weight criteria before moving to an adult seatbelt. Only two states, Wyoming and Tennessee*, have laws requiring kids to ride in boosters to age 8.
In my vehicles, he simply doesn’t fit. “What? What’s that?” you say. How could he not fit? He fits the criteria. Ah, but not the tried and true SafetyBeltSafe USA 5-Step seatbelt fit criteria that is very much more accurate than a height and weight fit criteria. First, what does every parent know? That every child is shaped differently. Child A may have longer legs than child B; child B’s torso is longer than child A’s. This completely affects the way carseats fit these children and also the way the seatbelt will fit these children. My ds would pass the 5-step test but for the length of his thighs. Yep, it’s hard to believe that a kid whose feet fit in my shoes and whose t-shirts get mixed up in the laundry with my workout t-shirts doesn’t fit in our vehicles because of the length of his thighs. Poor itty bitty guy, lol.
Let’s review the 5-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 auto seat?
- 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?
So my kid passes all of the 5-step test in my vehicles except for #2. When he sits all the way back against the vehicle seat, his knees won’t bend at the edge of the vehicle seat; his thighs are about an inch too short. He passes the 5-step test in smaller backseats, like sedans, but not in my van or SUV.
Here are pics of my kids, two kids who are presumably old enough and one who is technically big enough to ride without boosters. Ds is 4’11.5″, weighs 77 lbs. and is in the 97th percentile for height. Dd is 8, 52″, 51 lbs., and is in the 75th percentile for height. Both are “tall” kids, right? Like I mentioned before, ds passes all of the 5-step test except for his knees bending at the edge of the vehicle seat in our cars. Dd only passes steps 3 and 5. Her picture is deceiving because of the lighting, but her feet are not touching the floor of the van.
We keep trying to come up with something snappy and cute for parents to remember, but I don’t think it’s particularly safe for booster-aged kids. These kids aren’t going to fit into a cute jingle; how they fit onto a vehicle seat is as individual as how their feet fit into athletic shoes and yet we spend more time buying them shoes that fit every year than we do finding a booster seat that fits them. It’s nice that parents are starting to become more educated about boosters and that the booster use rate is going up, but we need to work harder on getting the proper message out, not just some message. It doesn’t do anyone a favor if we don’t do it right.
*Information on state laws can be found on the IIHS Child Restraint Laws web page.