I’m 9 Years Old – Do I Really Still Need a Booster Seat?

My son doesn’t want to use a booster seat anymore. I can see his perspective: none of his friends use one any longer and he thinks the seat belts in our cars fit him just fine. So why bother?? Because he’s just nine. And because crash studies and child safety guidelines from experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate that he still needs to be using one. Although he thinks he’s so smart and grown up, he’s just a kid – and I’m the parent. And I actually know what it feels like to be injured in a car crash.

Guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 recommend that kids use a booster seat until they are at least 4’9” tall (57 inches) and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. This will likely be around the ages of 8-12 years. But it’s the physical dimensions that matter most. Kids need to be large enough to fit properly in the seatbelt – and mature enough to ride without slouching down and defeating the whole purpose of the belts. Focusing on the age of the child to guide booster seat decisions can be misleading. Last spring – at 9-years of age – my son measured in the 75th percentile for both weight and height at his annual pediatric visit (meaning he was taller and heavier than 75% of other nine-year olds)….and he STILL DIDN’T meet the criteria for graduating from a booster seat – he’s not yet 4’9” and weighs only just over 80 lbs. So why are we in the minority in our community in still using a booster seat?

The problem is that many state laws – and therefore local communications about what constitutes safe car travel for older kids – haven’t caught up to these recommendations (click here for a summary of state laws on child passenger safety). Many states – like Alabama, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska (to name just a few) focus exclusively on age – without the all-important height and weight requirements. This list includes my state of Indiana which allows children over age seven to shelve the booster seat, no matter how big they are. My son’s best friend – also nine – stopped using a booster seat last year. He’s fully THREE INCHES shorter than my son. How can he possibly be safely restrained by an adult seat belt during a crash? And this isn’t just a theoretical issue. Safe Kids USA reports that children seated in a booster seat in the rear of the car are 45% less likely to be injured in a crash as compared to those using a seat belt alone.

While this is bad enough, some states – like Florida, Arizona and South Dakota don’t even have booster seat laws. In these states it is legally permissible for children as young as age 4 and 5 to use adult seat belts. Is there some reason why the children in these states are less likely to be involved in a traffic accident – or that they are somehow more resilient in a car crash?

Let’s face it – the process of proposing and passing laws is complicated and time-consuming. Hopefully all these states will eventually get on par with the guidelines, joining states like Georgia and Maine. However, in the meantime it’s our children riding in the back seat and I would rather base my car safety approach on best-practice guidelines than rely on the timeline and politics of my state judicial process.

So, in our house the 4’9” rule prevails. We even got out the measuring tape recently and determined my son has an inch to go. He’s counting down every day. And he understands that I’m following new expert recommendations to keep him safe – and that his friends’ parents probably just aren’t aware of these guidelines, which is too bad.

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


22 Responses to “I’m 9 Years Old – Do I Really Still Need a Booster Seat?”

  1. Lisa says:

    I think the guidelines are generally good, but mandating laws based exclusively on height and weight is a problem for some. I know we’ll be among those who won’t meet them by the time we ditch the booster seat. I’m only 4’11” and 103 pounds, and hit 4’9″ in high school. I was 4’9″ when I got my driver’s permit and probably hit 4’10” sometime around the time I got my license (yes, late bloomer in all ways! I managed the last inch my senior year).

    My 7-year-old is about 3’6″ and maybe 37 pounds, tops, which means she wouldn’t meet the guidelines until junior high at the earliest. I’m not making a 12-year-old ride in a booster seat. Junior high is hard enough. Being really short is hard enough. Having a law that would allow my daughter’s friend (who’s a foot taller than her) out of her car seat by the time she’s 9 and mandating that my kid stay in until she’s 13 or 14 isn’t particularly helpful. This will be true for my younger daughter, who also lags behind in the height department. Laws that suggest an upper age and earlier height/weight qualifier would be acceptable (i.e., “10 years old OR 4’9” and 80 lbs), but a strict height/weight requirement will always be ignored by the kids who aren’t on the charts.

    Besides once she’s 14, I want her in the front seat so we can have a year about talking about driving before she gets her permit. The idea of a child going from a booster seat straight into the driver’s seat terrifies me!

    • Nancy says:

      You clearly seem to be more interested in peer pressure than your child’s safety. So what if your child is still in a booster at 9 years of age, but her best friend doesn’t need one. Safety should come first. Have you seen the real life stories of children who were “old enough” by law in their state to not use a booster, but not at the “recommended” height/weight when there was a car crash and the seatbelt caused extensive internal injuries and/or death? But I guess that is worth the risk in order to give into peer pressure.

      • Anya says:

        I agree, Nancy. My 12 year old girls want to still be in a booster. They are past the age, weight, and height requirements for a booster, but not by much and I don’t like how they look too small still without the boosters. We had a near accident while they were in backless boosters and one of my daughters hit her head on the window. Now I’m trying to purchase 2 Diono Montereys that go up to 62″ (which is actually my height) to make sure their heads are protected in case of another near, or actual accident.

  2. Virgil Sun spots says:

    I can subscribe to that, I’ve bookmarked the page on Digg under “Really Still Need Booster Seat at 9? Guidelines say yes”. So hopefully our friends can give you a visit. Cheers!

  3. Kim says:

    I’m about 4’10” and just under 85 lbs at 33 years old. I almost never feel fully safe in a car. I was in a head on collision and the airbag did me more harm than good. I’ve currently been searching for a booster seat that will keep me a littler safer. Please, keep your children in their booster seats until they can comfortably fit in the seat with the seat belt sitting in the appropriate places. It’s just not worth the risk.

  4. Inez says:

    I think there would be far less issue with this if the suggested height/age matched up even a little with what’s average. I checked on the CDC website and I think for girls the average age they attain 4’9″ is someplace between 10 and 11 years. The age and height numbers seems totally unrelated and arbitrary.

    We ditched the booster when her feet hit the floor flat without her slouching and the shoulder harness rested where it should (ours adjust).

  5. Rudy says:

    I don’t create many comments, however i did a few searching and wound up here Really Still Need Booster Seat at 9? Guidelines say yes. And I do have some questions for you if you don’t mind.
    Could it be only me or does it give the impression like
    a few of the responses come across like they are left by brain dead
    people? 😛 And, if you are posting at additional social
    sites, I’d like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Could you list of all of your public pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  6. michael says:

    As i am ten and i DO NOT have booster seat!!!!#

  7. rinzzzz says:

    i think ur 9 yo needs a booster. maybe he could get the loback unless he is uncomfortable and/or get the ones w/ the cool designs so when his friends make fun of him he could show them his cool blue fireworks or whatever. even if he is big for his age but he slouches and the shoulder belt rubs his neck and puts the shoulder belt behind his arm he needs a booster. even if he is over 4’9” and over 80 pounds
    4 example im 11 & 4′ 10” but still 70 lbs. i just have long legs but a little torso so the shoulder belt rubs my jaw & neck and the lap part is in my tummy even if i don’t slouch. i used a hiback booster til i was like 10 1/2 now i just use a stack of books and a pillow but in some cars it’s still not high enuf and is very uncomfortable
    i dunno if i need a booster but ur 9 yo does

  8. Nancy says:

    My daughter is 9.5 and fairly small. She’s 4’3″ tall and 57 pounds. We have long time left to go until she won’t be in a booster! Yet none of the other kids her age still use them where we live.

  9. Daniel Watkins says:

    My car (Jeep Cherokee, older) has a bench seat in back, and the back of the seat is somewhat low. If my 8 year old son is not in a booster, his head and neck are against the seat and supported; in a booster, his shoulders, neck and head are above the seat back and completely unsupported. In a wreck, that booster would cause his neck to be snapped. I really hate that the law forces me to endanger him that way with the booster. Buying a new car isn’t an option, and I wish there were some sort of aftermarket option that was safe and crash-tested, which would allow the belt to fit him and keep him out of the booster. Suggestions?

    • Stefanie Zucker Stefanie Zucker says:

      Hi Daniel,

      I apologize for the long delay in responding, and I don’t know if you noticed, but we thought you had a terrific question so we actually did quite a bit of research and wrote a new article addressing your question in detail. There are specific solutions for parents in your situation. Here’s the link to the post: https://pediatricsafety.net/2015/11/question-vehicle-booster-seats-answered/ Hopefully this gives you the answers you were looking for. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Again, our apologies for the delay but we wanted to make sure we gave you information that would be of use to you, and to other parents dealing with this same challenge. Thanks again for writing. Sincere regards, Stefanie

  10. Dave says:

    This über safety culture is a bit obsessive and makes you wonder how much its predicated by the manufacturers of these products

  11. Mary Berthiaume says:

    So if i didnt meet the requirements as said and im 65 i need a booster seat really i always use a seat belt and number 1 rule in my car you have to wear it or get out of car
    But theres reasons y people get in accidents
    Is cuz people in other cars dont pay attention …so remember if you need to get somewhere leave early so you can get there safely PAY ATTENTION TO PEOPLE AROUND YOU

    • Stefanie Zucker Stefanie Zucker says:

      You’re right Mary – distracted driving is a huge reason for accidents – and today there are so many things competing for our attention – it’s amazing we get anywhere. And what we often forget is our kids are watching everything and learning from us…if we don’t stop what we’re doing and pay attention to what’s around us, why will they?? Thanks for the reminder!

  12. Mary Berthiaume says:

    God bless you all

  13. Jade says:

    I think 9 year old kid should have car seats

  14. benny says:

    im 7 and i sit in front seat


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