A booster seat is an additional seat that sits on top of the carseat to lift the child up several centimetres to avoid them being injured in the neck area by the car seatbelt. Booster seats should be used once a child no longer fits into their forward facing restraint as indicated by the shoulder height markers (and not just because they’ve celebrated their 4th birthday). There are two types of booster seats available on the Australian market. The first is a dedicated booster seat with a back. This type of booster uses the car lap/sash seatbelt to secure the child; the other is a convertible restraint that converts from a harnessed carseat into a booster once the child reaches the appropriate shoulder height marker within the restraint.
The new Type G restraints available here to hire or brand new seats to buy have an inbuilt harness suitable for children up to about 8 years of age. Booster cushions (the little bottom only cushions that have no back, sides, head or tether) were deleted from the 2010 Australian child restraint standard and are no longer manufactured. They are however still used and are often seen for sale on the second hand market. I would not recommend you use one of these cushions due to the fact that they offer no side or head protection at all in a collision and could leave your child vulnerable to serious injury. The decision regarding when to move your child out of a booster is one that has confused many parents.
There is, however, a very simple 5-step test that can assist you to make the right decision. Seat your child in the car without the booster and buckle them up in the car seatbelt. Now answer these 5 questions:
- 1. Can your child sit all the way back in the carseat?
- 2. Are their legs bent comfortably at the knee at the edge of the carseat?
- 3. Does the car seatbelt cross their body at the shoulder between the neck and arm (not cutting into the neck)?
- 4. Does the lap belt sit low across their thighs (not their tummy or abdomen)?
- 5. Can the child stay seated in that position for an entire car trip?
If you’ve answered yes to all of those questions (and your child is over 7 and has outgrown their current restraint) then your child is ok to ride in the car without a booster.