The basics of booster seats

Published 10:03 am Thursday, July 16, 2015

“When can my child go to a booster seat?”  — Jenny from Niles

Jenny, there are four basic restraint systems for children. The first is an infant seat. These seats may or may not have a base for them. They are rear-facing seats only. Usually, children from birth to 20-22 pounds ride in these seats. NEVER put these seats in front of an airbag.

The next seat is usually a convertible seat, a seat that can be rear or forward-facing. The rear facing version of this seat is for children, usually from 5 pounds to various upper limit weight limits. These may be 30, 35, 40, 60, or 65 pounds, depending on the brand. This means the harness straps and retainer clip have been tested up to those upper limits. BEST PRACTICE suggests we keep the children rear-facing as long as possible, using these upper weight limits and/or up to two years of age. Rear-facing is the safest position for young children, as this assists the small child to “ride down” the crash, spreading the energy forces throughout the strongest parts of the body.

The forward-facing version of this seat, which can range up to 40-65 pounds, or a forward-facing only seat may be used next. We suggest using these seats to the upper limits of the height and weight also.

The third step in child passenger safety is the booster seat. The law states the booster must be used until 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches, whichever comes first. Again, best practice suggests leaving the child in this seat until they reach the upper limits of height and weight, or are eligible and meet the steps to sit in the vehicle seat with the seat belt. If there is a head restraint where the child is sitting, then a low-back (or no-back) booster seat may be used. If there isn’t one, then a high-back booster seat should be used.

The child is ready for the adult seatbelt when their feet touch the floor with their knees bending naturally over the edge of the seat with no slouching. The lap portion of the seatbelt should rest across their hip area, not the stomach area. The shoulder portion should come across their shoulder/collar bone area and sternum area. We suggest not rushing this last step. Although the seatbelt will react properly like an adult’s seatbelt will in the front seat, we suggest as much protection as possible for the child, thus using a child restraint device.

Finally, best practice suggests we don’t have any children riding in the front seat unless the back seats belt positions are used and the child is 12 or older. Although the law doesn’t give a specific age, 12 years is a wise choice due to the size of the child in front of the airbag. Adjust the seat belt for proper fit and slide the seat as far back, away from the airbag, as possible.

Watch this article for future car seat checks or call and make an appointment with me if needed. Remember we are celebrating a summer of safety and your question, Jenny, brings up an important travel tip for all with children. Remember to take safety along for the ride.


Rob Herbstreith is a Michigan State Police trooper. Questions or comments can be emailed to