Stage 4: Seat Belt

Did you know that moving a child out of a booster seat and into an adult seat belt can be a risk of injury and misuse? Provincial and territorial age limits vary widely, some don’t have any requirement for kids to be in boosters at all and kids are all different sizes.

In a study in Nova Scotia it was found that the greatest proportion of incorrect seat use was among those children who transitioned from a booster seat to an adult seat belt too soon, with improperly fitting lap belts and shoulder belts being common errors.

Has your child reached the legal age requirement in your province to get out of a booster seat (8 or 9 usually)? Chances are quite high they still need one, despite their age. If the adult seat belt doesn’t yet fit without a booster seat then a child may still need to use a booster in order to comply with provincial seat belt laws, EVEN IF they have aged out of the booster law! Tricky eh?

The best predictor of a child fitting the adult seat belt is a height of at least 4’9″ (145cm) and fewer than 5% of girls and boys are that tall at nine years old. The EASY way to see if a child fits the adult seat belt is to do a Five Step Test, which is a quick evaluation of seat belt fit. A child may “Five Step” in one vehicle but not another, and it’s something kids can be taught to evaluate on themselves.

Five Step Test

If the answer to any of the below is ‘NO’ then s/he must continue to use a booster seat.

1. Does the child sit all the way back in the vehicle seat?

2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?

3. Does the shoulder belt lay across the collarbone, not riding up on the neck or slipping off the shoulder?

4. Does the lap belt sit low and flat across the tops of the thighs, not riding up onto the belly?

5. Can the child remain seated like that the whole trip, even when sleeping?

This 9 year old clearly does not Five Step (on left) but has excellent belt fit in a booster (on right).

IMG_7212 IMG_7211

According to Transport Canada, the back seat is the safest place for children under 13. A lap/shoulder belt is much safer than a lap-only belt for children AND adults. They also put any passengers next to them at more risk since they will move more in the event of a crash.

Stage 1: Rear facing
Stage 2: Forward facing
Stage 3: Booster seats
Stage 4: Seat belts