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Does Your Child Need a Booster Seat?

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According to Durbin, the child should stay in that seat until he or she properly fits in the car's seat belt. This will depend on the child's height, weight, and the size of vehicle, but it could be as late as 10 years of age.

There is no federal standard for certifying which booster seats would benefit which children. Moreover, so-called "shield" booster seats are considered unsafe but are still available in the U.S., Durbin and other experts say. Federal regulators have yet to develop a 10-year-old-child-size dummy for crash-testing the seats.

That's why the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety told Congress that "emphasizing boosters is a misplaced priority." Instead, it said, "The first order of business is to get older children in restraints regardless of what type of restraint is used."

In other words, let's focus just on assuring the use of seat belts. The institute's Susan Ferguson, PhD, said, "We don't want to have parents even more confused than they already are."

But Durbin tells WebMD that it's time to move ahead. "The message for several decades has been 'buckle up,' and that was a very successful message." He says that evidence now clearly suggests that booster seats are better than seat belts alone, although seat belts are certainly better than no restraints at all.

Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said that states should pass laws to encourage booster seat use, even if there is no clear definition yet of the ideal seat.

Others note that consumers need to make their voices heard to automakers, some of whom have -- with little fanfare or apparent demand -- begun to make built-in booster seats available with new cars.

"The car-buying public should start to ask questions," said traffic safety researcher Hugo Mellander.

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