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When is my child ready to use a booster seat?

September 16, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

To keep kids safe in the car, it’s important to know the age and height requirements for a booster seat – and when a child passenger has outgrown the booster


As parents – and, thus, as inevitable parental chauffeurs – nothing is more important when we’re on the road than making sure our kids are safe.

One of the best ways to do this – aside from not texting while driving, being distracted or speeding – is to make sure our children, our “precious cargo,” are properly and safely secure in the appropriate car seat or “child restraint system.”

What confuses nearly every parent at one point or another, however, is what exactly is the right car seat or child restraint system?

A seemingly “gray” safety area for many is determining when a child is ready to use a booster seat … and when a child is too big or too old and ready to move on without them.

As a parent and an auto accident attorney who lectures, writes, and blogs about child injury and child safety issues, I’ve encountered this issue many times and here’s what I tell parents and caregivers when they ask for my legal advice:

Once children have grown too big (in either height or weight) for their forward-facing car seat, they should move up to a booster and continue using the booster until they’re big enough and old enough to use a properly fitting seat belt all by itself – which is usually once a child has reach 8 years of age or is 4 feet 9 inches or taller.

My advice is based on both Michigan’s Child Car Seat Law and the recommendations of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) – which are discussed in greater detail below.

To learn more about Michigan’s Child Car Seat Law, please check out Michigan Auto Law’s blog post, “Police interpretation of Michigan’s existing car seat law.”

Michigan’s Child Car Seat Law

Adding to much confusion, Michigan’s Child Car Seat Law does not specifically address the issue of the age and weight at which a child can safely (and lawfully) use a booster seat. (MCL 257.710d (1) and (2); 257.710e(3))

However, the Child Car Seat Law does specify that a child is no longer required to use a car or booster seat once he or she has reached “8 years of age” or is “4 feet 9 inches in height.” (MCL 257.710e(3)(b))

OHSP’s ‘Car Seat Basics’ flyer

In its “Car Seat Basics” flyer, the OHSP recommends the following for the use of booster seats:

“All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat …”

Kids can move up to using just seat belts, alone, when:

  • “[T]he vehicle lap/shoulder [seat] belt fits properly, typically when the child reaches 4’9” tall at 8–12 years old …”
  • “[C]hildren are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, always use lap and shoulder belts for optimal protection.”

(Source: “Car Seat Basics,” Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, flyer)

OHSP’s ‘Michigan Car Seat Basics’ video

In its video posted on the Michigan State Police’s “Child Passenger Safety” webpage, the OHSP recommends the following for booster seats:

  • “Booster seats can be used when kids are big enough to sit with the seat belt crossing their hips and collar bone … mature enough to remain in position.”

As for seat belts – and no car seat or booster seat – the OHSP states:

  • “Once kids are 4’9” tall or 8 years old, they can use a seat belt.”

Child Car Seat Safety Tip

To keep your kids safe and secure in their car seats, you can make sure the seats are properly installed.

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