Kids—and often their parents—are eager to reach the next growth milestone. But don’t rush your children through the progression of car seats or you could compromise their safety.

Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that kids use booster seats until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and 8 to 12 years old. But many children are moved out of their booster too soon.

More than a quarter of 4- to 7-year-olds are prematurely transitioned out of their booster, according to a 2015 national survey on the use of booster seats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It's safer to wait. Even though some kids will be tall enough at age 8, most won’t be ready to make the transition out of a booster until they are 10 to 11 years old, according to the AAP.

Booster Graduation Checklist

To know when the time is right for your child to leave a booster behind, sit him or her on a vehicle seat. Then run through this checklist. If the answer is “yes” for each question, it’s safe to move from booster to seat belts: 

  • The child’s back should be against the vehicle seat. This seating posture limits the slack in the seat belt, allowing the child to get the benefit of the belt with less forward movement. If kids aren’t sitting comfortably, they may slide their hips forward, creating a gap between their back and the seatback and causing the lap belt to ride up onto their belly.
  • Knees should bend comfortably at the seat’s edge. Most kids will slouch to let their knees bend comfortably, increasing their risk of injury because the seat belt rides up off of their hips and onto the soft part of their belly.
  • The belt should be centered between neck and shoulder. Shoulder belts that sit too close to the neck can injure a child's neck and throat. Plus, this position can tempt kids to put the shoulder belt behind their back for comfort. A belt that sits off the shoulder can slip off during a crash, reducing its ability to protect.  
  • The lap belt should sit low across the top of the thighs. If the lap portion of the belt is across the soft tissue of the abdomen, it can damage internal organs in a crash. The lap belt should lay along the upper thighs across the sturdier hip bones.
  • Kids should stay comfortably seated for the whole trip. Uncomfortable children tend to sit in out-of-position postures—slouched forward, lying to one side, or with the seat belt behind their back or under their arm—leaving the  belt unable to provide the best crash protection. Children who move excessively aren't ready for a booster and may be better off remaining in a car seat with a harness. 

If the answer is “no” to any of the questions above, then your child is not ready to get out of a booster. Transitioning your child too early can significantly increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash. Additionally, because vehicle interiors vary greatly, your child may fit fine in one of your vehicles but not in another, because the seats and belts can work differently in each one. Be prepared to keep a booster seat handy for the car where your child may still need a boost.