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  • Writer's pictureLani Harrison

The Time it was Me: Why Preteens need a booster

Please, use a booster until the belt fits. Please.

I never thought I would be writing this about myself. But I was in a bad car collision last Wednesday, May 10th.

I was driving my daughter home from school. I was stopped at the red light on 7th Ave & Glendale in Phoenix. The light turned green, I started to go, and a car driven by a teen came barreling north on 7th Ave, ran the red light and smashed into my car.

We are ok thank G-d. A policeman was at the same intersection and saw the whole thing and was able to immediately help. The accident happened two doors down from the fire station, who also came to help.

Many friends who were on their way to and from the school saw me and stopped to help.

My daughter and I went to urgent care and then I went to the ER and spent most of the night there. Thankfully, it’s just very severe bruising, but nothing worse.

Of course I cannot say why this happened, but I want to mention one thing. My daughter is 10 and is still in a booster. The fact that she was in a booster may have saved her life. I have discovered through my telling people this in the past few days that there is still SO much misunderstanding on what a booster is and is not.

First of all, a booster is most unfortunate in that it shares a name with a device intended to help a baby or toddler reach the dinner table. But it's not babyish in any way. It's usually needed until around age 11 or 12.

If a seatbelt fits correctly, it can save your life in an accident. If it does not fit correctly, it can gravely injure you or worse. You might be thinking, so why do we even use them? The answer is that it’s the best we have right now. When it fits, it works. Airbags are a supplemental restraint system and are not designed to save lives on their own. They work in conjunction with seatbelts.

For a child over 40 lbs, how do we know if the seatbelt fits correctly?

- the shoulder belt must be TOUCHING THE COLLARBONE about halfway between the shoulder and the neck

- the lap belt should be HORIZONTAL on the tops of the thighs and not vertical on the stomach

- If the above are met, the feet must be flat on the floor with the knees bent at the seat edge. Otherwise the child will slouch and the belt won’t fit anymore.

My son demonstrates correct and incorrect belt fit

If a child is under 40 pounds, there’s no way for a seatbelt to fit correctly, even with a seatbelt fit insert. Those children need a car seat. My 6 year old is 35 pounds. He’s still in a car seat.

If a child cannot sit still and sit up for the entire car ride, they should also be in a car seat. This includes activities like leaning forward to rummage in a backpack on the way home from school.

If the belt fits correctly, the collarbone and the tops of the thighs will take the brunt of the collision. If not G-d forbid, the neck and the soft tissue of the stomach will take the brunt of the collision. I don’t have to tell you what happens if the neck takes the brunt of the collision. As for the stomach, it can cause internal bleeding and damage to organs. The booster puts the belt in the right place. It’s as simple as that.

Sometimes people ask me why they haven’t heard of this. First of all, this is not some extra stringency. This is the opinion of every single vehicle manufacturer and every single safety organization including the American Academy of pediatrics.

The problem is, news reporters are not educated in car seat safety. If there is a crash, they write “the passengers in the car were wearing seatbelts.” People read it and think that the seatbelt is the answer. It is, if it fits. I have read about crashes with terrible outcomes for preteens where it simply says that they were in a seatbelt.

State Laws

You may also be thinking, what about state laws? In CA, AZ and NJ, for example, they only have to be in a car seat or booster till 8.

State laws are a combination of:

- Politics : how long the state feels comfortable legislating about your child. (Florida is age 5!)

- Safety

- The desire to avoid exceptions

Maybe 1 in 100 8 year olds is ready to be out of a booster. (In my 10 years doing this, I’ve never met one!). So that’s enough for the state to stop at 8.

Most states also have a clause that the belt needs to fit correctly, but somehow that doesn’t make it on the posters in the pediatricians office.

Let’s put it another way: since Florida legislates till age 5, if you’re driving from Atlanta to Miami, is it OK to pull over at the state line and take your 6 year old out of the car seat? Of course not. It doesn’t become safe. The state laws do not dictate when you stop doing it.

Booster positioning

My daughter has a significant bruise where the shoulder belt was. If she had not been in a booster, all of that force would have been on her neck. I don’t think I need to go further to say what would have happened G-d forbid. Likewise, if the lap belt is on the stomach, the soft tissue and organs will take the brunt of the crash instead of the thighs.

Last of all, never take the shoulder belt and put it behind the child. I see kids do this all the time. Lap only belts in cars are so dangerous that they were outlawed in 2003. The torso jackknifes forward and the head slams somewhere in the car. The reason kids are doing this is they are trying to tell you that the belt is uncomfortable. There’s such an easy answer for it.



“What if my kids get made fun of?” I hear this a lot. Two points. First of all, it needs to be viewed as a badge of pride in the family, and kids need to understand why they’re using it. “We realize you need this to help the belt fit. If your friends ask, you can explain it to them.” (99.99% of the time, the friends also need one).

Second, it has to be viewed as something like glasses. Even if a child gets made fun of for wearing glasses, a parent is not going to say “Oh, just forget it. You probably don’t need them anyway.” You take it as a given that they will need to wear the glasses, and you work around that.

“My child is the smallest in the class as it is. I don’t want them to feel like a baby.” The following analogy may help. Let’s say you plan with your child to go to the amusement park. They cannot wait to go on the biggest roller coaster there is. You get to the park and to your child’s dismay, the sign saying “you must be THIS high” is much taller than the child. The child starts sobbing.

The park manager sees this whole thing and feels bad. He comes running over to your child, holding a special cushion with straps. “Hey, the manufacturer just sent this this week. It’s a special adapter for smaller kids to go on the ride. Want to give it a try?”

Your child grins, grabs it, and runs toward the ride. It’s the same thing with the seatbelt. If the seatbelt doesn’t fit, then thank G-d there’s a special adapter to keep them safe. It’s called a booster.

It’s also important to remember that all cars are different. Children may have a correct belt fit in one car where the shoulder belt comes out from the seat itself, but in another car where it comes from the wall or ceiling, it might be on the neck. It’s necessary to check the child in each car.

I didn’t use one, and I’m fine!” There’s actually a name for this type of thinking. It’s called ‘survivorship bias.’ If you take a group of people and they all say this, all that means is that the people who didn’t survive aren’t in your group talking about it. If people didn’t use a booster and they’re fine, what it means is they weren’t in a terrible car accident. Not that what they were doing is safe.


Walmart has boosters for under $20. (“Cosco Rise” and “Cosco Rise LX”). If anyone isn’t sure if the seatbelt fits their child, send me a picture of the child buckled in and I can let you know. The average age that the seatbelt actually starts fitting most children is 11-12.

I would be happy to answer any questions. Thank you so much for reading.

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