Would you take your four-year-old son to an R-rated movie? Would you let your six-year-old daughter have a glass of wine? Of course not! Those activities are designed for adults and are neither appropriate nor safe for children.
Following the same logic, you should not buckle your small child into a safety belt designed for an adult; and whatever model you drive, the safety belt in your car, mini-van, or SUV is designed for an adult.
A recent study funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and conducted by the Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS) shows that using a belt-positioning booster seat instead of a seat belt alone reduces the injury risk of children ages four to eight by 59 percent. The study also found that children in seat belts are four times more likely to suffer a head or brain injury in a crash, compared to children who ride in belt-positioning booster seats—a scary prospect, especially because the brain is the organ least likely to recover from an injury.
Another worrysome finding from the study by PCPS, a research collaboration between The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, State Farm Insurance Companies and the University of Pennsylvania, is that parents look to state laws for guidance on how to properly restrain children in a car. Yet currently only about one-third of states have booster seat laws on the books.
As the PCPS study indicates, a small child in a safety belt alone is in as much danger in a crash as a child who is completely unrestrained. The shoulder portion of an adult-sized safety belt cuts across the neck and face of a small child. The lap belt fastens over a child's stomach instead of over the upper legs or pelvis. An uncomfortable, fidgety child is likely to slip out of the shoulder belt, which leaves his upper body completely unrestrained—and in a crash, that ill-fitting lap belt will put all the force of the impact on his internal abdominal organs.
A belt-positioning booster seat is an easy, quick and inexpensive solution. A booster seat raises a small child up so that the lap belt fits properly over the hips and the shoulder belt is correctly positioned across his chest and shoulder. It doesn't require complicated installation, a locking clip or a tether. Your child simply sits down and buckles up. And it costs as little as $20.
There are two kinds of booster seats: a high-back booster and a backless booster. Both boosters belong with seat belts that have a lap and shoulder belt; they don't work with a lap-only belt. A high back booster supports a child's head in a car that doesn't have a high seat back with a head rest. Backless boosters can be used on any vehicle seat that supports the child's head to the top of the ears.