Between 2009-2013, 1,522 kids between 8-14 years old died in a vehicle crash. That’s one child passenger in this age ranged every 8 minutes. We always hear about infant, toddler, and even preschooler car seat safety, but what about older children? Tweens, the age range of 8-14, still need proper car seat safety precautions, especially seat belt safety that many parents overlook just because their children are bigger. So what are the proper Tween Seat Belt Safety guidelines?
If we are being 100% honest, there’s no perfect answer here. Children in the tween age range vary greatly on weight, height, and even maturity levels, that all need to be taken into consideration when dealing with seat belt safety at this age. The first step that you need to be taking is to make sure that YOU are properly secured in a seat belt every time. At this age, if you aren’t taking your own safety into accountant, they are less likely to feel like they need too.
Now, let’s talk about whether your tween should still be in a booster seat or if they are ready for just a seat belt. It’s important to know the child restraint laws of your state. Here in NJ, ALL children under 8 years of age, should be in a child restraint seat. That means a booster until at least 8 years old; however, just because a child turns 8, doesn’t mean they are ready to move from a booster to a seat belt (just like a child who turns one isn’t ready for forward facing). So what are you looking for?
- Shoulder belt against SHOULDER (not neck)
- Lap Belt across Thighs (not abdomen)
- Butt all the way back to seat
- Knees bent beyond the edge of the seat AND their feet can touch the floor
- Stay in this position for the entire length of the trip
According to CSFTL, this doesn’t happen until around 10-12 years old, or a child is 4’9″.
“But, I wasn’t 4’9” until high school, maybe even college?” Thinking that yourself? The difference is that an older teenager/adult has had a longer time for bones to ossify. Bones have not completed the ossification process until 17-25 years old, with a majority of the process happening during the critical ages of 7-14, the tween years, which is why it is vital for tween seat belt safety to be followed.
When the seat belt is not properly positioned, the force of the crash is greater on non-ossified bones, creating a great risk to organs inside of those bones and increasing the risk of spinal injuries, as described in more detail by The Car Seat Lady here.
The fact is that a majority of children aren’t in the right seat, but there’s no better time than the present to fix it! Never compromise on car seat safety with you child, regardless of age.
You can find more tips at safercar.gov about tween seat belt safety and other car seat tips.