Children under age 8 must be properly buckled into a car seat or booster in the back seat.
Children age 8 or older, or who are 4 feet 9 inches or taller, may use the vehicle seat belt if it fits properly with the lap belt low on the hips, touching the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt crossing the center of the chest. If children are not tall enough for proper belt fit, they must ride in a booster or car seat.
Most car seats have an expiration date on one of the manufacturer labels that can be found on the sides or bottom of the car seat. To find out if a car seat is expired, you should look for that expiration date label first. If there’s no expiration date listed, use the date of manufacture and consult the car seat owners’ manual. Many manufacturers give a maximum car seat life in the manual. If not, call the manufacturer and ask.
Everyone in the car must be properly buckled up. For each child under 16 who is not properly secured, parents (if in the car) or drivers can be fined more than $475 and get a negative point on their driving record.
Most kids need to ride in a booster seat until age 10 to 12.
For best protection, all children should ride in the back seat.
If your child isn’t using a booster, try the simple test below the next time you ride together in the car. You may find that your child is not yet ready to use a safety belt without a booster.
The 5-Step Test
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the car seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the car seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to make both the shoulder belt and the lap belt fit right for the best crash protection. Your child will be more comfortable, too.
For local programs that provide low cost car seats, please call the San Benito County Public Health Division at 637-5367.
Alvaro Garza, M.D., M.P.H. is the health officer for San Benito County’s Health and Human Services Agency and a commissioner for First 5 San Benito. For information about parenting classes, please call (831) 634-2050.