How do you know when your school-aged child can safely come out of the car seat, and use a regular seat belt? It’s longer than you think.

The safety issue relates to the way that the safety belts themselves restrain the child. In order for the belt to restrain the child without causing injury, the belt must nestle against the child’s bones, rather than soft tissue.

Delaware law (click here for interesting info) requires kids to be in their car seats while travelling until the 8th birthday, or 65 pounds, whichever comes

first. But following this rule does not guarantee safety, especially for smaller kids, because of the geometry of safety belts.

To convince yourself (and your child, if she is agitating to get rid of the booster seat), you can try this test:

Let your child (over 8 years old and 65 pounds) sit in the back seat of your car, with just a seat belt on. Drive around the block once or twice, then park in your driveway. BEFORE the kids get out of the car, go to the back seat and check the position of the seat belts on the child’s body.

The lap belt should strike the child’s lower hip bones. And the shoulder belt should be laying across the hard clavicle (collar bone). If the lap belt has slipped up across the soft tissues of the belly, or if the shoulder belt lays across the soft tissues of the neck, then it is not safe for the child to be transported this way: in an accident, the safety belts themselves could cause soft tissue

damage. The purpose of the booster seat is to raise the child, so that the safety restraints are in the proper position.

Frankly, I think the only reason that a child would want to get rid of a booster seat is to think of themselves as more “adult”. But the booster seats let the kids see out the car window better! My daughter, who was rather petite, needed to use a car booster seat

until she was almost 10. When she complained, I performed the demonstration above, and she quickly understood the need.

(For information about car seats for younger kids, click here.)

– David Epstein, MD