All fifty states require children to remain in car seats or booster seats until they reach a certain age, weight or height. When a child has outgrown an infant or toddler car seat, booster seats can help them travel safely and fit into seat belts correctly. The decision to switch young kids from car seats to booster seats depends on local laws, the size of the child, and the preferences of the child and parents.
There are three main types of car seats: infant, infant/toddler or convertible, and booster. Infant car seats generally double as baby carriers, and have a removable base that stays in the car. Infant/toddler or convertible seats can often be rear-facing or forward-facing, and stay in the car. Booster seats come in two types: high-back and backless. Since high-back booster seats provide additional safety restraints and support, they are often used for younger children, while backless belt-positioning boosters may work well for older children.
Infant car seats typically hold a baby from birth to 20 or 30 pounds, while infant/toddler or convertible car seats often work from birth to 40 pounds. Most booster seats are designed for children from 40 to 80 pounds, although some start at 25 pounds or go up to 100 pounds. Some children may no longer be comfortable in a convertible car seat if they are tall or have broad shoulders, even if they still meet the weight requirements. These children may need to switch to a booster seat.
If you have an infant car seat with a high weight limit and a booster seat with a low starting weight requirement, you may be able to skip the toddler seat and move the child straight from an infant seat to a booster seat. However, most children switch to a booster seat once they have outgrown an infant/toddler seat. Infant/toddler or convertible seats may last a child from birth through the toddler years, or even preschool. Most states require children to use car seats or booster seats until they are 4 to 8 years old, although one state requires booster states until age 11.
The primary consideration in switching from a car seat to a booster seat is the size and weight of the child. However, as children get older, they may also have an opinion on what type of seat they would like to use. Older children may find convertible seats or high-backed boosters uncomfortable, or feel that they are being treated like a baby, and want to switch to a backless booster seat. Some parents may also choose to move an older child up to a booster seat when they need the smaller car seat for a younger sibling. Backless booster seats can also weigh less, making them more portable for traveling.
Make sure that your child meets the weight and size requirements for a particular booster seat before switching them from a car seat, since weight requirements can vary from brand to brand. Make sure the car seat or booster seat has never been in a car accident, is no more than six years old, and meets current safety regulations. Do not use a dining booster seat as a booster car seat. Failure to follow booster and car seat laws or use them correctly can cause death or serious injuries for children.