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Why does my child need a booster car seat?

Why does my child need a booster car seat?

Although some of us have fond memories of riding around in the back of the family station wagon unrestrained, at that time parents didn't realize just how dangerous it was.

Today people drive much more than they used to, and kids spend a lot more time in cars than they did before car seats were used. So it stands to reason that safety measures are more widely used now. Although the increased use of seat belts and car seats means the number of motor vehicle injuries and deaths has declined, millions of crashes still occur on U.S. roads every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that an average of three children were killed in motor vehicle crashes every day in 2013.

One problem is that seat belts designed to fit adult bodies don't hold children securely. However, children who use a booster seat reduce their chance of a crash-related injury by 45 percent. That's because the booster does exactly what its name suggests: It boosts your child high enough for your vehicle's lap and shoulder belts to restrain her safely.

Without a booster seat in the event of a crash, an adult seat belt can actually cause injury rather than prevent it. For example, if the lap belt rests on your child's tummy (which it's likely to do without a booster), she could suffer stomach, liver, or spleen damage in a crash. And if the shoulder belt rests against her neck rather than her chest, she may try to move it under her arm (where it could crack her ribs and damage internal organs) or behind her back (where it offers no protection at all against head, neck, and spinal injuries).

That's why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now recommends that all children who have outgrown their car seat continue to ride in a booster seat until:

They're at least 8 years old AND 4 feet 9 inches tall.

They have outgrown the manufacturer's height and weight recommendations for their booster seat.

Your child is ready to use a regular seat belt only when she can keep her back against the car seat, her knees naturally bend over the edge of the car seat, and her feet stay flat on the floor of the car.

Keep in mind that strapping your child into a booster seat is probably the law in your state. Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico require booster seats for children. Check out this map from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to find out the requirements in your state.

But it's wise to use a booster seat, regardless of whether your state requires it. In 2013, 172,000 kids were injured in car crashes, and 1,149 children died. Most of those children weren't properly restrained, which means that a booster seat could have prevented many deaths.

And while you may assume that most of these tragedies resulted from fiery, high-speed collisions on a highway, the reality is that most car crashes involving children happen 10 minutes or less from home.

Of course you want your child to travel safely. The trick is to avoid those safety lapses because "we're just going to the grocery store," says Stephanie Tombrello, executive director of the nonprofit child passenger safety organization SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. "Ask yourself, 'If I were in a crash right now, how would I want my child to be riding?'" Then make sure your child rides this way every day.

Because time-crunched parents naturally favor convenience, Tombrello recommends coming up with an approach that's so simple and consistent it becomes automatic. If your family has two cars, for example, it will make things much easier if you pony up for two booster seats. Then you can leave one in each car, rather than trying to move one seat back and forth all the time (a step that's likely to be skipped on frantic mornings).

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