When is a Child Ready for an Adult Safety Belt?

Safety belts are designed for adults – not small children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ride in a belt positioning booster seat until the safety belt fits as it would an adult – which could be as long as 12 years old for some children.


The lap portion of the safety belt must fit low and tight across the upper thighs. The shoulder portion of the safety belt should rest over the center of the shoulder and across the chest.

To be able to fit in a safety belt, a child must pass this 5-step test:

  • Be tall enough to sit without slouching,

  • Keep his/her back against the vehicle seat back,

  • Keep his/her knees completely bent over the edge of the seat

  • Keep his/her feet flat on the floor, and

  • Be able to stay comfortably seated this way for the entire trip.

Lap-only safety belt

This type of safety belt has two anchor points and should fit over the lap (thighs and hips).  The sole function of the lap-only safety belt is to hold the passenger in the vehicle.  It is the least desirable type of safety belt because it does not give any upper body protection and should not be used unless absolutely necessary.   A lap-only safety belt does work well to install some child safety seats.  Contact your vehicle manufacturer to find out if the lap-only safety belt can be retrofitted with a combination lap and shoulder safety belt. 


Combination lap and shoulder safety belt

This type of safety belt has three anchor points and should contact the body over one shoulder and fit over the lap (thighs and hips).  The shoulder part of the safety belt gives protection to the upper body, keeping the head, neck and spinal cord protected.  This type of safety belt is safer than a lap-only safety belt. 


Never put the shoulder portion of the safety belt under the child's arm or behind the child's back. This can cause severe internal injuries in a crash. If the safety belt does not fit properly the child should use a belt-positioning booster seat.


Always check safety belt fit on the child in every vehicle. A belt-positioning booster seat may be needed in some vehicles and not in others.


NOTE: ALWAYS read and follow the child safety seat instructions and the vehicle owner's manual. Don't rush your child into a safety belt too soon! Make sure the safety belt fits properly before taking your child out of his booster seat. REMEMBER: The Back Seat is Best – up to age 13.

What About Aftermarket Belt-Positioning Products?

Devices advertised to improve safety belt fit for older children and adults are presently not covered by government safety standards. These products are not recommended. They may help to improve the comfort of the shoulder portion of the safety belt but at the same time they may cause the lap portion of the safety belt to be placed over the soft tissues of the body possibly resulting in serious injury. Belt-positioning booster seats are the best solution for children who are too small for the adult safety belt.