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Booster Seats Until 57 (Inches, That Is)

child car seat
By Steven Jerome Parker, MDApril 14, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

In my home state, legislation was just passed that mandates booster seats for all children less than 8 years old (or shorter than 4 feet 9 inches). I have to tell you, not every one is happy about this. “It’s more evidence of the Nanny State – the government telling us how to raise our kids,” some have objected.

I am not unsympathetic to this kind of libertarian view when it comes to adults. After all (although I don’t subscribe to the view), why should the government force me to wear a seat belt if no one else is hurt but me? Don’t I have the right to get my own fool self killed unnecessarily if I so choose? Hey, next the Nanny State will fine me for not wearing sunscreen because I might get skin cancer.


But – vive la difference – the rights of kids and the rights of adults are not equivalent.

As the laws concerning kids have frequently (and wisely) reiterated: Adults may have the legal right to make martyrs of themselves, but they don’t have the right to make martyrs of their kids. That’s why, for example, courts order life-saving blood transfusions for kids whose parents object on religious or other grounds.

I’m 100% supportive of the government taking this on as a way to keep kids safe. Of all your priorities in raising your kids, ensuring they survive their childhood (and your parenthood) must be at the top. I’m not trying to be funny here. I can’t tell you how many parents I know who obsess about the color of their children’s poop, but leave them improperly restrained in the car.


Here’s why appropriate car restraints are the number one way for you to safeguard your child’s well-being:

  • Nothing – repeat nothing – is more likely to cause your child to die than a motor vehicle accident.
  • Properly used car restraints cut the chance of death in an accident by 60%.
  • Improperly fitting seat belts (most commonly seen at age 4-8 years) greatly increase the risk of intra-abdominal, spinal cord and vertebral injuries during an accident. The reason is that the seat belts tend to ride on the belly and not the hips (booster seats correct this). In case of an accident, serious injury to the abdominal organs or spine is more likely to occur. **
  • Booster seats improve the chances of survival over seat belts alone by 28% ***
  • States with expanded booster seat laws see a 39% rise in the appropriate restraint of a child ****

In one way, the objecting parents are right: Don’t wait for your state’s law to tell you what to do. Law or no, keep your kids in booster seats until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.

If they object, tough. They’re kids and our #1 priority is to keep them safe, whether they like it or not. In my book, a parental job well done is for them to live long enough to some day complain to their shrinks about how overprotective you were.


* For more info on how to use car restraints with your kids:

** For the story on seat belt injuries:

*** “Effectiveness of child safety seats vs seat belts in reducing risk from death in passenger vehicle crashes.” Elliott et al. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2006

**** “Effect of booster seat laws on appropriate restraint use by children 4-7 years old involved in crashes”. Winston, et al Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2006

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