What is the 5-Step Test?
The 5-Step Test is the only accurate way to assess if a child is optimally protected by a vehicle’s lap/shoulder seatbelt system without a booster seat or other type of child restraint. The 5 “test” questions guide parents or caregivers in their assessment of the seatbelt fit on the child. This fit will vary depending on the child, the vehicle and even the specific seating position within the vehicle. The 5-Step Test takes all important variables into consideration including child’s size, ability to stay seated properly, depth of vehicle seat and seatbelt geometry. Weight and age are actually meaningless factors for determining if a seatbelt fits a child correctly.
Taking the 5-Step Test is quick and simple. Have the child buckle up in the vehicle and then answer these 5 questions:
1. Does the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat?
2. Are knees bent comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
3. Does seatbelt cross the shoulder properly? (it should be centered over the collar bone)
4. Is the lap portion of the seatbelt low – touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated this way for the entire ride, every ride (awake and asleep)?
Bonus step – feet planted firmly on floor
Why is the 5-Step Test Important?
The 5-Step Test is important because adult seatbelts are not designed to restrain children and ill-fitting belts can actually cause injuries in a crash. Of course that isn’t an excuse to not buckle up. Kids are always better off if they are restrained in a crash, even if it’s sub-optimally. Not buckling up dramatically increases the child’s risk of serious or fatal injuries. However, using a belt-positioning booster seat for older kids and “tweens” who don’t yet pass the 5-Step Test significantly reduces the risk of injury. Unfortunately, the majority of older kids who really still need booster seats aren’t using one. This leads to a lot of misuse, or non-use, of the adult seatbelt. Poor seatbelt fit makes for uncomfortable kids and uncomfortable kids are much more likely to either not buckle up at all or to misuse the seatbelt in ways which reduce their effectiveness and increase the risks of injury in a crash. How many times have you seen kids tuck the shoulder belt under their arm, or worse yet – put it behind their back entirely? Whenever I see a child do this, I know that this child probably still needs a booster to help position the seatbelt properly.
Since most adults are visual learners, I’ve put together some examples of the 5-Step Test that you can practice on to get a better idea of what to look for. As you’ll see from these real life examples, age is irrelevant.