What is the purpose of a booster seat?
Booster seats raise children to the level where adult-sized seat belts fit right, explains Walker. "In a vehicle, every piece of safety equipment was designed to fit an adult who is five feet, ten inches and 160 pounds," she explains. "When you take your child to buy their first winter coat, you don't buy an adult-sized coat, knowing that they are going to grow into it at some point. You buy a child-size coat. It's really the same principle. Car seats modify the adult equipment to fit the child so that the child gets the safe protection." (According to SAFEKIDS.org, improper use of seat belts put children at risk of serious and often fatal injuries to the internal organs and spinal column.)
Is there more than one type of booster seat? If so, which is right for my child?
"There are two types of booster seats—high back boosters and backless boosters," explains Walker. "They both meet the same standards—it's just what's right for your vehicle. A high back booster is especially good if you have a van with very low seat backs, with no head restraint. In that case, the child has at least some head protection."
What about shield-style booster seats?
Shield-style booster seats are unsafe and have been linked with serious injuries, cautions the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you are using an older booster seat with a removable shield and your child is over 40 pounds, you may remove the shield and use the seat as a backless belt positioning booster. Better yet, buy a newer model booster seat.
I don't have shoulder belts in my vehicle. Can I use just the lap belt to position the booster seat? If not, how can I position my booster seat(s)?
Belt positioning booster seats are made for use with a shoulder positioning seatbelt along with a lap belt. Shoulder belts should be positioned across the child's chest—never behind them or under their arms.
To position your seats, you can have shoulder belts retrofitted, says SAFEKIDS.org. Contact your vehicle manufacturer to request a retrofit kit and take it to a dealer for installation. Alternately, you can use a harness system (such as the 86-Y made by E-Z-On), or a forward facing child safety seat with a five-point harness and a higher weight limit.