Seat Belts

When should children advance to a seat belt?
Always use your booster seat to the maximum height or weight the booster allows before moving your child to a seat belt. To determine whether your child is big enough to no longer use a booster, be sure you have him take “The Seat Belt Fit Test.” If he doesn’t pass all the steps, it’s not a big deal. Just be sure he continues using a booster with the seat belt, and retest in a couple months.

Interactive Seat Belt Fit Guide

Interactive Seat Belt Fit Guide

The Seat Belt Fit Test

  • Have your child sit in a back seat with their bottom and back against the vehicle’s seat back.
  • Do the child’s knees bend at the seat’s edge? If yes, go on. If not, the child must stay in a booster seat.
  • Buckle the seat belt. Does the lap belt stay low on the hips? If yes, go on. If it rests on the soft part of the stomach, the child must stay in a booster seat.
  • Look at the shoulder belt. Does it lay on the collarbone and shoulder? If yes, go on. If it is on the face or neck, the child must remain in a booster seat. NEVER put the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind the child’s back. Do not allow children to play with the shoulder portion of a seat belt.
  • Can the child maintain the correct seating position with the shoulder belt on the shoulder and the lap belt low across the hips? If yes, the child has passed the Safety Belt Fit Test. If no, the child should return to a booster seat and retest in a month.


  • Booster seats can reduce the risk of serious injury by 45 percent compared to seat belts alone. Source: Safe Kids Worldwide.
  • Children under 13 years old should sit in the rear seat.
  • If your child is under 13 years and must sit in a front seat with a passenger-side airbag, properly restrain your child and move the vehicle seat back as far as possible.

Securing Your Child in a Seat Belt

  • Place the lap belt low over your child’s hips and upper thighs. If the seat belt rides up on the stomach, it could cause serious injuries in a crash.
  • The shoulder belt must come across the middle of the chest, and not across the neck or face.
  • The seat belt should never be worn behind the back or under the arm.
  • Most children, if they are 4’9” tall, fit in a lap/shoulder belt.

Special Considerations

  • Turn off the front passenger’s airbag for young front-seat passengers.
  • When the booster seat is not being used, always buckle it in place. In the event of a crash, any loose object, including a booster seat that is not secured, can fly around the car and seriously injure or kill a passenger.

Seat Belt FAQs

The key to this question is the word “safely.” Utah’s law requires children to ride in appropriate child safety seats until they are eight years of age. Unfortunately, most children younger than age eight do not fit properly in an adult-size safety belt. Seat belts were designed for the average-sized adult, not a child. Safety experts highly advise all parents to keep their children in booster seats until they are at least 4’9” tall. Booster seats “boost” the child up so the lap and shoulder belt fit safely over the strongest parts of their body.

No. Every person in a vehicle should have his own seat belt. In the event of a motor vehicle crash, sharing a seat belt can cause extreme injury and even death as the two sharing the seat belt crash into each other.

Seat belts function best when properly used, with the lap belt worn two to four inches below the waist, against the hips and upper thighs-never high over the ribs and stomach. The shoulder belt should never be worn under the arm or behind the back. It should be worn snugly across the chest with the belt lying against the collarbone. When driving, sit up straight at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel for added airbag protection in the event of a crash.

One faces a risk of serious injury or death by not using the seat belt properly – in this case, by not placing both components of the belt on the appropriate points of the body. The seat belt is designed to contact the strongest points of the body-the pelvis and the collarbone. When it is not worn properly, the user risks soft tissue damage to vital organs like the lungs, stomach, liver, and even spinal cord, all of which can be debilitating. Also, supplemental restraint systems such as airbags work best in conjunction with a properly used lap and shoulder belt.

If there is a problem with proper belt fit, one way to help the shoulder belt fit better is to move closer to where the belt buckles (i.e., on the driver’s side, move toward the right). This lessens the angle at which the belt crosses the neck, and helps in many vehicles.

Safety advocates recommend that children age 12 and younger ride properly restrained in the back seat, which is generally the safest place in the vehicle. While some states require this by law, Utah law does not specify where in the vehicle a child is required to ride, but the law does require that children younger than age eight ride in an appropriate car seat or booster seat that is used according to the owner’s manuals. In turn, all rear-facing seats are prohibited from being used on the front seat of the vehicle if there is a passenger airbag. The only way the rear-facing safety seat can be legally and properly installed on the front seat of a vehicle is to manually turn the airbag to the “off” position. Some manufacturers prohibit using their products in certain seating positions of different vehicles. If a child younger than age 12 must ride in the front seat, be sure the vehicle seat is pushed as far back as possible and that the child is properly restrained in a car seat, booster seat or lap and shoulder belt.

Actually, the height of the child is the most important factor in determining whether the child has outgrown the need for a booster seat. When a child reaches approximately 4’9″ tall, the adult safety belt should fit properly. Because vehicle seats are all different, refer back to “The Seat Belt Fit Test.”

Large school buses (with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds) are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than do passenger cars and light trucks. Because of these differences, the crash forces experienced by occupants of buses are much less than that experienced by occupants of passenger cars, light trucks or vans. Large school buses protect its passengers through a concept called “compartmentalization.” Occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs.

Transporting Children with Special Needs

Finding the right car seat for your child and using it correctly can be challenging. However, if your child also has a special medical need, it may seem overwhelming. Primary Children’s and Shriners Hospitals are a resource for special needs transportation questions and concerns. Call today and a special needs CPS Technician can give you recommendations on restraints that will work best for your child, your family and your vehicle.

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Shriners Hospital

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Special Needs Information
  • Many traditional car seats work well with children with special needs. Choose one that has features such as a higher harness weight, higher rear-facing weight, forward facing recline and accessories that allow for positioning. Do not alter a traditional car seat or use positioning products that did not come with the seat.
  • There are many medical seats and vests made for children who have outgrown traditional seats. Most have accessories that allow for growth and changing positioning needs. This will permit you to use the seat longer and the seat will continue to be safe for your child.
Tips & Warnings
  • All car seats should meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 213. Check for this on the label before you buy.
  • Special needs seats are expensive. Check with your insurance for coverage. Medicaid provides coverage for these restraints in some cases, usually requiring a letter of medical necessity.
  • Don’t make changes to your child’s car seat to make it fit better. The changes will not have been crash tested and they may not protect your child in a crash.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for weight and height. When your child is too tall or too heavy for the seat, get a new seat. Pay attention to the direction the seat is facing. Remember it is safer to keep a child rear-facing until two years and 30 lbs.

When Your Child Won’t Stay Buckled

(Adapted from

Get a Car Seat That Fits

Placing a large child into a too small car seat may be uncomfortable and add to the urge to escape. Sometimes trying a seat with a different type of chest clip may do the trick. Because children with special needs may need to ride in a car seat longer than the usual age and size, a roomier car seat with a higher harness weight may help.

Use a Seat That Can Adapt to Your Child’s Needs

Children with physical limitations may need a car seat that comes with accessories that lets them sit safely and securely. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued some guidelines on seating kids with tracheostomies, muscle tone abnormalities, spica casts and behavioral issues, as well as children who must be restrained while lying down.

When You Can’t Pull Off, Turn Off

Pulling over and stopping the car when a child unbuckles is fine in theory, but many times you are going somewhere important and your child doesn’t care so much whether you get there or not. In that case, help your child understand the consequences of good behavior. For example, tell your child because he is wearing his seat belt correctly, he can listen to his favorite music or watch his favorite DVD.

Make Your Child the Seat Belt Police

Always wear a seat belt yourself and make sure everyone in the car is buckled. Put your car seat Houdini in charge of checking that everyone stays buckled. The right to boss others about their seat belt use may make your child more careful about keeping his own seat belt buckled.

Provide Distractions

Make sure the belt buckle isn’t the most interesting thing your child has to play with in the car. Toys that need a lot of hand involvement such as activity kits or handheld games may help distract your child from the fun buckle “toy.”

Give a Reward

If you use a behavior charts or a reward point system with your child, give points for staying safely seated. Or let your child earn points that can be used immediately on arrival for a treat or privilege – ice cream at the mall, maybe, or an item of choice at the supermarket. Be sure to keep the reward small and sacrifice-able – something that highly motivates your child but makes no difference to you one way or the other is ideal.

Furnish a Seatmate (Fake)

Do you have extra backseat space and an old car seat? Try putting the extra seat beside your child’s, buckling in a favorite doll or stuffed animal and putting your child in charge of making sure that playmate does not escape from the seat. Whether your child is occupied with patrolling and role-modeling, or with helping her friend stay buckled, she may keep her hands off her own buckle.

Furnish a Seatmate (Adult)

Mom and Dad usually sit in the front seat and the kiddos take up the back, but if policing your child’s car seat safety is too hard to do with your back to the culprit, placing one parent in the back to police, re-latch and distract may work better. If you are the only adult, try giving a sibling rewards or behavior-chart points for peacefully keeping the escaping child seated.