When to Switch to a Backless Booster Seat

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A car seat and a booster seat are one of the most important child safety choices you will make for your child. It’s also important to know when it’s time to switch from one seat to another. If your child is in a convertible car seat or a harnessed booster seat, then you may be wondering when to switch to a backless booster.

Most children transition from their convertible car seat to a booster seat at about four or five years old, or whenever they have outgrown their convertible car seat. When they’re ready to move on to a booster seat, it is important to choose a high back harnessed booster seat before a backless booster.

Do I need a harnessed booster seat?

The short answer is yes. The reason for choosing a harnessed booster before a backless one is because at three or four years old, a child isn’t likely to be developmentally ready even if they fit within the size limit.

  • Your child likely isn’t yet mature enough for just a seatbelt restraint. You want to be sure that your child will always sit straight in their seat.
  • Your child’s bones aren’t fully formed and it is simply safer for them to be in a harness for as long as possible. Until they outgrow their harnessed booster is ideal.
Car seat safety: When to switch from a harnessed booster seat to a backless booster seat

The Britax Grow With You transitions from a 5-point harness to a belt-positioning high back booster, so your child can stay harnessed up to 65 pounds and it can be used with a seatbelt up to 120 pounds.

Car seat safety: When to switch from a harnessed booster seat to a backless booster seat

When is my child ready to move from a harnessed booster to a backless booster?

Once a child starts school they might not want to remain in a “car seat“, but they are likely still not tall enough or mature enough for a seatbelt alone. This is when we might start thinking about when to switch to a backless booster seat.

The safest choice is to keep your child in a harnessed booster seat for as long as possible, but when is a child old enough and developmentally ready enough to make the switch?

Your child is ready for a backless booster when . . .

  1. Your child is at least 5 or 6 years old 
  2. They can sit still without leaning forward or to the side, slouching, fooling around, etc.
  3. Your child is at least 40 pounds
  4. Your child is at least 38-43″ tall
  5. The seat belt strap sits across their collarbone and shoulder instead of the neck when in the booster
Car seat safety: When to switch from a harnessed booster seat to a backless booster seat

Why does my child have to sit still in a backless booster?

Even if your child is old enough and fits within the height and weight range of a backless booster, that doesn’t mean that they are ready to sit in one

If your child can’t sit still then you run the risk of the seat belt sliding off the collarbone and shoulder. If you are in an accident while your child is in a leaning position, it could result in serious injury.

If your child is still wiggly in his or her seat, they should remain in a harnessed booster. Once they have reached a level of maturity where they sit and act appropriately at all times in their seat, then you may move them to a backless booster seat. This typically happens around age five or six. 

Click here to find out more about when to move your children up to the next car seat or to a booster seat.

The best backless booster seats (in our opinion)

Our top picks for the best backless booster seats for your child.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a good reason to rush your child from one seat to another. Switching to a new car seat should depend on your child’s size, where they are developmentally, and if they have outgrown the height and/or weight limit of their current seat.

Your child should meet all of these milestones regardless of their age and your state’s laws. State laws are often too soon to ensure that all children are riding safely in an appropriate restraint for their age, size, and maturity.

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