Parent confession: Many skip booster seats for carpoolers

Jan. 30, 2012 at 3:05 AM ET

Heads up, parents who carpool: Half those surveyed said they sometimes let kids who should be in booster seats skip them if not every kid in the car is using one.

By Stacy Lu

You set out with a crew from the birthday party, but find you’re a booster short. Do you make sure your own child gets one?

Or do you, instead, let all the kids use belts only? In a national survey published today by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), half of the 1,612 parents of 4- to 8-year-olds questioned said they sometimes let passengers – and their own kids – go booster free if not every child is using one.

Why? A third of the respondents said arranging for that extra safety seat in advance was too hard, and research  suggests that many drivers just find it easier to have all the kids either in or out of booster seats.

Boosters help protect kids from serious injury, though, and just a bit of teamwork can keep everyone in the safety seat, says Debra Smiley Holtzman, a safety expert, mother of two and author of “The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living.” You won’t be the only parent grappling with the issue, and most will appreciate some polite initiative.

It helps to know the laws in your state. Half of the survey respondents did not, and another 20 percent guessed it incorrectly. (The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has an interactive map.) If you’re chauffeuring a child for the first time and see that she needs a booster, ask her parent to provide one – after all, the law is on your side.

“I say, ‘It’s my policy that when people ride in my car, they need to be appropriately buckled.’ Make it matter-of-fact, so that it’s unlikely to be questioned,” Holtzman says.

It’s fine to apply the same my-way-or-the-highway firmness to a finicky passenger, whether it’s someone else’s child or your own.

“It gets awkward because my older daughter is on the small side, and some of her friends have now outgrown boosters – or at least claim to have outgrown them,” says Katrina Hunt, a mom of two from Del Mar, Calif., who puts her passengers in safety seats anyway.

Holtzman said her car pool arranged for the same parent to drive round-trip, to avoid excessive seat shuffling. It doesn’t hurt to keep a spare in your trunk, either.

About 80 percent of survey respondents said they always asked that a carpool driver put their own child in a booster. So don’t feel shy about insisting, and provide a seat to make it easy. Most backless boosters are fewer than 20 inches wide and shouldn’t cause a space issue. Or try an inflatable seat: the affordable BubbleBum is just 13 inches wide.

The longer you can keep them in the seats, too, the better. For added safety beyond most state laws, the AAP encourages boosters for any child shorter than 57 inches – the average height of an 11-year-old.

Fess up: Have you ever let your kid or another child skip the required booster seat? Tell us on Facebook.

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