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I think it depends on which state you live in
Here in NY its 4yrs or 40lbs, whichever comes LAST.
But car seat experts recommend they be in a booster seat until they are 80lbs or they can sit in the seat (without a booster) and their legs bend at the knee (as opposed to sticking straight out; and they are tall enough in the torso that the seatbelt crosses their clavicle (not the neck, and definitely NOT behind their back!).
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for children of every age from 6 to 14 years – a fact that can be linked, at least in part, to the reality that most kids are unbuckled or improperly restrained in vehicles. One of the most common mistakes parents make when restraining children is that they don’t understand the different stages of child restraint use throughout a child’s growth. Since many state laws only require child safety seat use up to age three, many parents assume older kids are safe in just a seat belt. The message parents need to learn is this: When children out-grow forward-facing convertible seats, they need to be restrained in belt-positioning booster seats – until they are big enough to fit properly in an adult seat belt. Children who cannot sit with their backs straight against the vehicle seat back cushion, with knees bent over a vehicle’s seat edge without slouching, are not big enough for adult seat belts.
Even the most safety-conscious parents are often not aware of the need for booster seats or the danger their children face when improperly restrained in an adult seat belt. On a small child, the adult lap belt rides up over the stomach and the shoulder belt cuts across the neck. In a crash, this could cause serious or even fatal injuries. The statistics are startling. Restraint use for children from birth to age one is 97 percent, and ages one to four, 91 percent. From age five to 15, restraint use plummets over 20 points to 68.7 percent. According to 1998 FARS data, over 47 percent of fatally injured children ages four to seven are completely unrestrained. And one NHTSA study showed that only 6.1 percent of booster-aged children were restrained in a booster seat.
Children generally outgrow convertible child safety seats when they are about 40 lbs. From 40 to about 80 lbs. and about 4’9” tall, children should always be seated in a belt-positioning booster; lifting them so adult lap/shoulder seat belts are “positioned” correctly and safely. Plus, booster seats offer children better visibility and comfort.
During Child Passenger Safety Week, February 13-19, 2000, it is important that we, as child safety advocates, approach this issue head-on. We need to inform parents that:
*Child safety seats – including boosters – are very effective in saving children’s lives during crashes.
*All children age 12 and under should sit properly restrained in the back seat.
*It is critical for parents not to move their children too quickly into adult seat belt systems, skipping booster seats altogether.
*Parents should have their child safety seats inspected by a certified child safety seat technician in their community.[/b]
I am not sure what the law says. But I always judged that by size of the child. Our son was fairly big at age 4. By 5yrs old our son was to big for the booster seat in the car. He was well over the 40 pound limit then.
Using a seat belt is better than nothing, but the belts don't properly fit children until they are about age 8 or 9, making children vulnerable to serious injuries in a crash.
Kids are safest in booster seats until about 4'9" and 80-100 lbs. and can pass the 5 Step Test.
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto 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!
Texas - "A person commits an offense if the person operates a passenger car or light truck and transports a child who is younger than five years of age and less than 36 inches in height and does not keep the child secured during the operation of the vehicle in a child passenger safety seat system according to the instructions of the manufacturer of the safety seat system."
My kiddo is 2 1/2 and weighs 42 lbs...not sure how tall he is...no matter he'll be in the car seat for a long while!