Tag Archives: bestpractices

Do Middle Schoolers and Pre-Teens Still Need Booster Seats? Sometimes

Do Middle Schoolers and Pre-Teens Still Need Booster Seats? Sometimes
Your almost-teens might still need boosters, no matter how much they glare at you. Here’s what you need to know to keep them safe.

It’s not easy being a parent today; while studies have shown that mortality among children are at all time lows, watching the news has us more afraid than possibly any other generation in modern history. Drugs, alcohol, sex, guns, bullying, standardized testing, terrorism–the list goes on and on. I try to make the world a bit more manageable by focusing on best practices in car safety and car seat safety for children, which is why you’ll find articles on just about everything related to keeping kids and adults safe in and around cars on The Car Crash Detective.

What are general best practices for children in car seats?

We’ve looked at how infants, toddlers, and preschoolers should sit in cars (i.e., rear-facing, just as in Sweden) and we’ve talked about when kids can switch from rear-facing to forward-facing or boostering (from 5 onward, but later is also fine). On the other end, we’ve looked at when and how teenagers should start driving alone (as little, as late, and with as much training as possible, as in Norway), and in the middle, we’ve considered when kids no longer need booster seats (typically not until at least 10 to 12). Today’s article will touch on that last point in more detail. Specifically, we’ll consider the situations in which middle schoolers and pre-adolescents (i.e., 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, or 10-13 year olds) may or may not need booster seats.

Why don’t most parents consider booster seats for middle schoolers?

In general, middle schoolers, or children between 11 and 13, are almost never found in car seats in the United States and Canada, despite the fact that a number of them might still benefit from having boosters. This typically occurs due to one of two reasons: either parents see their kids as big enough to sit safely without them or children refuse to sit in car seats after a certain age out of a desire to imitate parents, siblings or peers, or out of a fear of being ridiculed by the latter.

The fact that parents typically let kids sit without boosters by middle school isn’t surprising since parents generally place kids in the front seat by 2nd grade, even though this isn’t safe. Nor is it surprising that children resist sitting in car seats when given a choice, as children are notoriously poor decision-makers when it comes to auto safety (as are many adults as evidenced by speeding rates, annual mileages, alcohol consumption, and seat belt compliance). As usual, it’s up to us as adults to learn and enforce best practices, as society will take far too long to catch up in the mean time.

When would a middle schooler need a booster seat?

When it comes to middles schoolers, they do benefit from booster seats when they haven’t yet passed the 5-step test. While the NHTSA recommends kids stay in boosters until they fit seat belts well, which they note typically occurs when kids are around 4 foot 9 inches, or 57 inches, this guideline isn’t always going to be enough. And while plenty of states permit kids to use adult seat belts much earlier (some don’t even have front seat age requirements past the one year rear-facing limit), we can’t look to the government for guidance here, because best practices in car safety and car seat safety are years away from our laws. The 5-step test is a much better guide, as it’s based on…best practices.

As a reminder, here’s what your pre-teen should look like and be able to do 100% of the time without a booster seat. If you don’t see these positions, your middle schooler isn’t yet ready to  use an adult seat belt. While I’ll use the pronoun “she” below, the guide applies equally to boys and girls.

1.) When she’s sitting, her shoulder belt should cross directly over the middle of her shoulder rather than across her neck or on the outer part of her arm.

2.) The lap belt should sit low on her thighs rather than over her waist or above her stomach.

3.) Her bottom should sit at the intersection of the lower and upper vehicle seats; there shouldn’t be a gap between her back and the back of the vehicle seat.

4.) Her knees shouldn’t bend until they are past the bottom seat’s edge, and her feet should rest flat on the floor rather than fully or partially in the air.

5.) She should be able to sit in this position for as long as the vehicle is in motion without moving; she shouldn’t find this position uncomfortable to maintain.

Every one of these factors should be in place before your son or daughter switches to an adult seat belt, and all of them overrule the general height guidelines. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with your child if she doesn’t meet the guidelines yet; it just means she isn’t ready. She will be soon; virtually all typically developing kids are ready to pass the 5-step test by their 13th birthdays–which, not coincidentally, is when kids can sit in the front seat, per the NHTSA.

If my pre-teen needs a car seat, which do you recommend?

Do Middle Schoolers and Pre-Teens Still Need Booster Seats? Sometimes
If you want a booster to take your child all the way through to seat belt eligibility, the Clek Oobr is perhaps the best option on the market.

If your not-quite-teenager doesn’t pass the booster test, you’ll want to buy a booster seat. For older children, any high back or backless booster will work as long as it lifts your child enough for her to pass the 5-step test as described above. A great example of a backless booster is the Clek Olli. It’s discreet and comes in a wide range of colors for picky pre-teens.

Do Middle Schoolers and Pre-Teens Still Need Booster Seats? Sometimes
The Peg Perego Flex 120 is another excellent option for a long-term booster seat.

If you’re looking for a seat for a younger child (one at least 4 years old) that can be used until she no longer needs a booster seat of any kind, you’ll want to start with a high back booster, as they’ll position kids properly even when they’re asleep, which is safer for younger kids.

The three best high back boosters on the market are the Clek Oobr, Maxi-Cosi RodiFix, and Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120. Of the three, the Oobr has the advantage of being able to split into a backless booster if you’d like that option down the road. However, all three seats will last kids throughout the booster years until they’re ready for adult seat belts.

Remember: the goal here isn’t to annoy your pre-teens, but to keep them safe. Most aren’t going to need car seats at this point, but some will. And that’s okay. Keep being the beacon of best practices; you’ll have rougher waters ahead in a few years, and emphasizing the importance of responsibility now will help shape their decision-making later.

If you find my information on best practices in car and car seat safety helpful, you can do your shopping through this Amazon link. Canadians can  shop here for Canadian purchases. Have a question or want to discuss best practices? Join us in the forums!

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Why Can’t We Buy 55-Pound Rear-Facing Car Seats in the US Like Sweden?

The Britax Multi-tech III rear-faces from 20 to 55 pounds in Sweden. Why isn't it sold in the US?
The Britax Multi-tech III rear-faces from 20 to 55 pounds in Sweden. Why isn’t it sold in the US?

One of the most interesting facets of car seat safety involves the differences in cultural attitudes toward car seat usage and auto safety overall, which is reflected in the availability of different seats in different regions of the world. For example, Britax regularly sells car seats capable of rear-facing up to 55 pounds throughout Europe, particularly in the UK, Sweden, and Norway. However, they don’t sell any seats capable of rear-facing past 40 pounds in the United States as of November 2017, and this has been the case for years, despite the availability of such 55-pound rear-facing seats overseas for more than a decade. Why is that? And does it really matter? Let’s take a closer look at these questions today.

There’s (almost) no demand for 55-pound rear-facing in the United States

The Britax Two-Way also rear-faces from 20 to 55 pounds in Sweden. But almost no one would buy it if it were available in the US...so it isn't.
The Britax Two-Way also rear-faces from 20 to 55 pounds in Sweden. But almost no one would buy it if it were available in the US…so it isn’t.

The primary reason why 55-pound rear-facing seats aren’t yet available in the United States is because there’s almost no demand for them. Car seat manufacturers don’t stay in business by making seats no one buys; there’s a large demand for rear-facing seats in Sweden and Norway, where most children rear-face until 4 to 5. However, in the United States, where most children are forward-facing by age 2, there’s much less demand for seats that allow kids to rear-face far beyond that.

There are definitely exceptions; as of today, there are 7 convertible car seats that allow children to rear-face until they hit 50 pounds: The Clek Fllo, the Clek Foonf, the Diono Rainier, the Graco Extend2Fit, the Graco Extend2Fit 3-in-1, the Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit, the Nuna Rava, the Safety 1st Advance EX 65 Air+, and the Safety 1st Grow and Go EX Air. However, only one of these existed when I started this blog in 2014, the Clek Foonf. We’ve made progress in raising awareness of the importance of rear-facing, and more parents are doing so in the US than ever before, but it’s still a very, very, very small market here compared to what’s the norm in Sweden.

It’s also important to note that while you can buy Swedish seats and import them to the US to use them with children on this side of the pond, this is illegal because Swedish seats aren’t legal for US use since they aren’t tested by the NHTSA. There are plenty of ways to get around the law if you’re interested in doing so for a number of things in life, but we’re focusing here on why such seats aren’t legally sold in the United States or Canada.

With that in mind, it’s important to note that just because we can’t rear-face past 50 pounds in the United States doesn’t mean our kids are leaving a lot of safety on the table compared to their Swedish siblings. In fact, the best rear-facing seats in the US have a lot in common with the best Swedish ones. Next we’ll take a look at four 55-pound rear-facing Swedish seats.

Which Swedish car seats rear-face until 55 pounds, and how do they compare to American seats?

I recently reviewed the Britax Max-Way II (which rear-faces from 20-55 pounds) and compared it to US convertible seats. It's not that different from the best ones here.
I recently reviewed the Britax Max-Way II (which rear-faces from 20-55 pounds) and compared it to US convertible seats. It’s not that different from the best ones here.

I recently wrote about how one of the most common Swedish rear-facing car seats, the Britax Max-Way, was not that different from extended rear-facing convertibles available in the US (e.g., the Clek Fllo or Diono Rainier). It’s one of four commonly sold 55-pound rear-facing car seats available overseas via Britax; three others are the Britax Hi-Way 2, which succeeded the Britax Hi-Way some years ago, the Britax Two-Way, a much older but still relevant design, and the Britax Multi-Tech III. Three of these seats rear-face from 20-55 pounds while one rear-faces from birth to 55 pounds. None of these seats are available in the US but all are readily available in Sweden and a number of other countries throughout Europe (e.g., via Britax Sweden). The manuals for these seats are typically available in English, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, and Swedish, reflecting sales in the UK, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and of course, Sweden.

The Britax Hi-Way II is designed to rear-face from 0-55 pounds. However, Britax only sells it in Europe.
The Britax Hi-Way II is designed to rear-face from 0-55 pounds. However, Britax only sells it in Europe.

While all four of these seats may seem far more advanced, sophisticated, and yes, safer, than anything available in the US, it’s essential to note that the Swedes themselves don’t credit the seats with their exceptional safety record for the fewest children lost to car crashes per capita year after year. To the Swedes, the difference comes primarily from rear-facing. Indeed, if you look at the seats more closely, you’ll realize that, practically speaking, you can’t rear-face in them any longer than you can in the best American seats.

Really?

Yes! As with American seats, the usability of Swedish car seats is primarily limited by height instead of by weight, even though seats there, like seats here, are primarily marketed by height.

How long can Swedish car seats actually be used to rear face compared to the best US convertibles?

Want Swedish rear-facing time on a budget? Just get a Graco Extend2Fit--or any of the other 50 pound seats.
Want Swedish rear-facing time on a budget? Just get a Graco Extend2Fit–or any of the other 50 pound seats.

When it comes down to it, you can actually get about as much time rear-facing in the best US convertibles as you can from the best Swedish seats. Let’s compare the four above to some of their closest American counterparts.

The Britax Max-Way is a Group 1/2 seat designed for kids from 9 months to 6 years of age. It rear-faces (and only rear-faces) from 9-25 kg, or 20-55 lbs. It has a height limit of around 120 cm, or 47 inches.

The Britax Hi-Way II is a Group 0/1/2 seat designed for kids from birth to 6. It rear-faces from 0-25 kg, or 0-55 lbs. It has a height limit of around 110 cm, or 43 inches.

The Britax Two-Way is another Group 1/2 seat for kids between 9 months and 6 years. It rear-faces and forward-faces from 9-25 kg, or 20-55 lbs. It has a height limit of 125 cm, or 49 inches.

The Britax Multi-Tech III is a Group 1/2 seat aimed at kids between 9 months and 6 years. It can both rear-face and forward-face between 9-25 kg, or 20-55 lbs. It also has a height limit of 125 cm, or 49 inches.

According to growth charts from the Center for Disease Control (which are the same for girls and boys), a 50th percentile child won’t reach 50 pounds until 7 years and 25 kilograms (55 pounds) until approximately 7 years and 9 months. Height-wise, the child won’t reach 43″ until 5 and 49″ until 7 years and 5 months.

A Clek Fllo will give you the same amount of effective rear-facing time as a Britax Max-Way or Hi-Way II despite having a 50-pound weight limit.
A Clek Fllo will give you the same amount of effective rear-facing time as a Britax Max-Way or Hi-Way II despite having a 50-pound weight limit.

In other words, for a 55 pound seat with a 49″ height limit, height is the limiting factor for a typical child, and it limits a seat to 7 years and 5 months, and a 43″ height limit limits a seat to 5 years. There are several 50-pound seats in the US with 49″ height limits, including the Nuna Rava, the Safety 1st Advance EX 65 Air+, the Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit, the Graco Extend2Fit.  The Diono Rainier tops out at 44″, which a 40th percentile child will reach by 5 years and 5 months. The Clek Fllo and Clek Foonf top out at 43″, which a 50th percentile child will reach by 5.

What this shows is that any of the 50-pound rear-facing seats currently available in the US will allow you to rear-face as long as you can with two of the four most common 55-pound rear-facing seats available in Sweden, and four separate 50-pound US seats sold in the US will match the rear-facing time an average child can get out of the two tallest 55-pound seats sold in Sweden. There are some unique situations (e.g., heavy, short children) where certain kids could potentially get more time from a Swedish seat than an American one by being too heavy for an American seat yet falling within the height limits, but these will be very, very rare situations. Practically speaking, if you want to rear-face until 4 or 5 or even 6 or 7, you don’t need a Swedish seat; you just need to make the most of an American one. Sort of like how you don’t need the newest cars to travel safely.

Does this mean we don’t need 55-pound rear-facing seats in the United States to keep our kids as safe as those in Sweden?

In a word, yes. Their incredibly low rates of child deaths come from a combination of factors including and beyond extended rear-facing, such as their much closer adherence to best practices in road design and driver behaviors than that found in the US. Swedes drive half as often as Americans, which automatically cuts the risk of death for children and adults alike in half. If we want numbers like those seen in Sweden, we can’t just rear-face and call it a day. As with most societal-scale changes, it’ll require societal-scale commitment. And the US shows no sign of lowering speed limits, reducing auto travel, and redesigning roads to make slower, safer travel a priority over faster, riskier transportation.

If you replaced every 55-pound car seat in Sweden with, say, Clek Fllos, they’d still have the lowest child death rates on the planet. Our seats are good enough. We just aren’t using them–and our driving culture and infrastructure aren’t helping.

Until we adopt societal-level changes, the secrets to keeping your family safe will continue to be found in choosing safe speeds, following best practices with car seats,  and choosing safe roads.  Don’t wait for the government or your neighbors to follow best practices, or you’ll be waiting an awfully long time.

If you find my information on best practices in car and car seat safety helpful, you can do your shopping through this Amazon link. Canadians can  shop here for Canadian purchases. Have a question or want to discuss best practices? Join us in the forums!

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