Car Safety: Older Children

Seat belts

Seat belts are made for adults. Your child should stay in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap and shoulder belts (vehicle seat belts) fit correctly, typically when your child reaches 4 feet 9 inches in height and is between 8 and 12 years of age.

Kids seat belt safety tips

The following are some important seat belt safety tips for your kids:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that when children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, typically when they reach 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts in the rear seat of the vehicle for optimal protection.
  • All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles.
  • Make sure the vehicle seat belt fits correctly before you let your child ride without a booster. The AAP offers these suggestions to check if your child is ready for a seat belt alone:
    • Your child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle's seat back with her legs bent comfortably at the edge of the seat, and with her knees and feet hanging down.
    • The shoulder belt lies across your child's chest and shoulder and not cut across her neck or face. The lap belt is low and snug across the thighs, not across the belly.
  • To keep the upper body protected, do not allow your child to tuck the shoulder belt under her arm or behind her back. You can use shoulder belt height adjusters built into your vehicle to make the shoulder belt fit better. Don't buy after-market or "add-on" belt adjusters. There are no safety standards for these products.
  • Some older cars have only lap belts in the rear seats. If your vehicle doesn't have shoulder belts in the back seat, consider having your dealer or auto repair shop install (retrofit) them.
  • Never allow anyone to “share” seat belts!

Teach your children about seat belt safety and make sure they follow them during every road trip. 

Teens seat belt safety tips

Teens have the lowest seat belt use of any age group. Teens that are not properly restrained can be seriously injured or killed in crashes. In 2006, only 65 percent of high school students reported they consistently wore seat belts as drivers and as passengers. Teens admit to not wearing seat belts regularly when they are passengers with drivers of any age. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the majority (56 percent) of young people 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes were unbuckled.

Your teen will become a passenger of other teen drivers, and eventually, a teen driver herself. A new teen driver has four times the fatal crash risk of an adult driver. This is mainly due to a lack of driving experience and distractions such as peer passengers and cell phone use.

Here are some things you can do to help your teen learn safe driving habits:

  • Don't start the car unless all occupants are buckled. If occupants unbuckle while you are driving, find a safe place to pull over until everyone is safely restrained.
  • Require seat belts for every ride, every time. No exceptions. Let your teen and her friends know that wearing seat belts is non-negotiable.
  • Share why safety belt laws do make a difference. According to research, kids are more likely to buckle up when their state has a primary safety belt law. This kind of law allows law enforcement officers to stop a vehicle and issue a ticket when simply observing an unbelted driver or passenger. Let your child know state laws require the use of seat belts.
  • Eliminate unnecessary distractions. Being a good role model means more than just buckling up. Model other safe driving behaviors by keeping distractions to a minimum. In the past five years, an estimated 6 to 8.3 million drivers involved in crashes attribute the crash to being distracted. Among the distractions:
    • Looking for something inside or outside the car
    • Dealing with technology, such as radios, iPods, cell phones
    • Personal thoughts

Resources for teens and parents

Countdown2Drive: If you're a parent of a teen, check out Countdown2Drive, a nationwide web-based program that promotes safe passenger behavior among pre-driving teens. Please visit for free resources for teens, parents, policymakers, educators and researchers to help keep teens safe on the road.