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Car Seats & Safety Belts

Children of all ages need special care when they ride in any motor vehicle. Many adults are surprised to learn that it can take up to 12 years for children to be big enough for standard seat belts—close to 5 feet tall and between 80 and 100 pounds.

Until children reach that size and weight, they need to use car seats or booster seats for both protection in case of a crash and for comfort. Your child will take three car seat steps before reaching step four, the standard safety belt or seat belt. Learn more about these four steps here.

STEP 1 | Infants

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a rear-facing car seat as long as the seat holds the child, up to 35 pounds. Take the next step to a forward-facing car seat when your child is at least 2 years old or 35 pounds.

STEP 2 | Toddlers

Use a forward-facing car seat (convertible or combination seat) until the child reaches the weight limit of the harness, which is usually 40 pounds.

STEP 3 | Boosters

Use a booster seat with the vehicle lap and shoulder safety belts until your child is 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches tall and until they pass the Safety Belt Fit Test.

Take the next step to the safety belt when your child is 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

Safety Belt Fit Test

  1. Have your child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat. Do his or her knees bend at the front edge of the seat? If they bend naturally, go to #2. If they don’t, return to the booster seat.
  2. Buckle the lap and shoulder belt. Be sure the lap belt rests on the upper legs or hips. It if does, go to #3. If it rests on the stomach, return to the booster seat.
  3. Be sure the shoulder belt rests on the shoulder or collarbone. If it does, go to #4. If it’s on the face or neck, return to the booster seat. Never put the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind the child’s back.
  4. Check whether your child maintains the correct seating position for as long as you are in the car. If your child slouches or shift positions so the safety belt touches the face, neck, or stomach, return your child to the booster seat.

STEP 4 | Safety Belts

Once your child passes the Safety Belt Fit Test, require him or her to use a safety belt in a back seat in every vehicle on every ride, whether you are there or not. A lap and shoulder belt provides the best protection to your child and helps him or her maintain the correct seating position.

More Help and Information

FREE car seat safety checks at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon and around the metro area.

Visit for more tips and safety laws in Missouri and Illinois

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