In Holton Township, Michigan, Isaiah Hill, a 6-year-old -- the same age as my own son -- died when he was ejected from the car after a crash. He was not restrained at all. No booster or seat belt. His mother, 24-year-old Sheena Joslin, was driving in inclement weather when her car crossed the middle line and struck an oncoming vehicle. Isaiah's 1-month-old brother Peyton was also ejected, but was in his car seat. The seriousness of Peyton's injuries are unknown.
We may never know why this mom didn't have 6-year-old Isaiah in a booster and secured by a seat belt. But we do know Isaiah's life is over. He will never graduate kindergarten. He will never grow up. He will never get married. He will never have children. He will never smile one more time, ever. He is DEAD.
Booster and car seat safety is so important. Children's lives depend on moms and dads and caretakers taking the time to educate themselves about how to secure kids in the car so in the event of an accident, they are given the best chance to survive it. And yet, people went crazy and got upset with the announcement of the National Highway Traffic Safety Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics updated booster and car seat recommendations that toddlers stay rear-facing as long as their convertible (not infant) car seat allows, until 2 as a bare minimum. And that children need to stay in a belt-positioning booster until they are at least 4'9" tall, AND 8 years old -- which is law in many states already, including Michigan where Isaiah lived and died.
That's the reason these new recommendations are finally out there, not to punish moms or make your life difficult. It's not a conspiracy by car seat companies in an attempt to make you spend more money, but it's so your child doesn't end up bleeding out on the pavement or the hospital bed.
So to clear up some confusion, these are the rules for boosters:
Your child has to be 8 years old. No matter how tall or heavy they are. This is due to the development of their hip bones and spine. Their bones have to be able to take the impact from a seatbelt, which distributes it less evenly than a 5-point harness, and in different locations.
Your child has to be 4'9" AND 8 years old. If they hit 4'9" at 6 or 7, they still need to be in a booster until they get to be 8. This is to help them at least be in the bare minimum range of the lowest average adults, since seatbelts are designed to fit adults, not children (and in Europe, according to a Safe Kids expert, smaller adults do use boosters).
If your kiddo hits their 8th birthday and is 4'9", congrats! Now all you have to do is the 5-Point Test to make sure they fit safely!
If the answer is no to ANY of those, your kiddo just isn't ready yet. If they won't leave the belt where it belongs, slouch, or fall asleep a lot, they are much safer AND likely to be way more comfortable in a booster. If the belt rides up on their belly, they risk damage to the internal organs, and if it ends up on their neck, it can crush their esophagus and trachea. Not good. Have you had the belt rub on your neck before? Ouch!
Many moms are concerned about finding a booster that fits a larger kid -- don't be. Ask a car seat tech or advocate about the best fitting seat for your child and your budget. Prices vary from $13 for a Harmony Juvenile booster (yes, seriously) to $300 for a Sunshine Kids Monterey booster. I've got a $70 Britax Parkway SG that my 5'9" husband fits into so finding one that fits until your child is big enough to go without just isn't a problem with the seats out there.
When the risk is death, like 6-year-old Isaiah whose mom didn't make sure he was restrained properly for whatever reason, is that $13, probably what you spend at Starbucks in one trip, really worth gambling your child's life over? Yeah, didn't think so.