09/19/2014 10:51 am ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

Car Seat, Booster Seat or Seat Belt: Where Does Your Kid Fit

How tall is your child? We know exactly what babies weigh and how long they are, but most parents I know couldn't tell you the exact height of their child as they grow older. There is one height, however, that every parent of young children needs to know: 4'9" (57 inches).

Children need to be at least 4'9" and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds to make the move from a booster seat to riding with just a seat belt. Many kids are between 8 and 12 years old before that happens. I recently learned about a family that knows full well why it is important to resist the temptation to let children move out of a booster seat too soon.

On a snowy, rainy day last March, in the rural town of Fabius, Mich., a mother and her three young boys drove to an event at the local fire house to have their car and booster seats checked. State Trooper Jason Sylvester, a certified child passenger safety technician, saw that the safety seats were expired, replaced them, and shared tips with the family for staying safe in cars. Fifteen minutes after they left, Trooper Sylvester learned that the family had hit an icy patch on the road and their truck had rolled over. The family was unharmed.

These children were fortunate to have a mother who knew how important it is to buckle up every ride, every time, and use the right seat. According to, motor vehicle crashes are the second-leading cause of death for children 4 to 10 years old in the United States. In 2012, 340 children of this age died in motor vehicle crashes. A third of these children were riding without a restraint that could have possibly saved their lives.

Booster seats can reduce the risk of serious injury by 45 percent compared to seat belts alone. And yet, an alarming number of parents are allowing kids to use just a seat belt before they are ready. With support from the General Motors Foundation, Safe Kids has just released "Buckle Up: Booster Seats," a research report which reveals that seven in 10 parents of children ages 4 to 10 do not know that a child should be at least 4'9" and weigh between 80-100 pounds to ride in a car without a booster seat. In practice, nine out of 10 parents move a child from a booster seat to a seat belt too soon.

Booster seats protect children who are too big for a car seat but too small for a seat belt, but only if we use them and make sure they are installed properly. Child Passenger Safety Week (September 14-20, 2014) culminates with National Seat Check Saturday on September 20. Look for one of the more than 600 child seat inspections hosted by Safe Kids across the country. You'll get guidance from certified child passenger safety technicians on proper installation of child safety and booster seats. Visit to locate an event in your community this week and throughout the year.

If you have ever had trouble installing a car seat, you'll appreciate this video.