Question Carseats and Older Kids


New member
While I am all for the new recommendations on car seats, I'm in a weird position with regards to an older child. The focus is always on little ones and rear-facing seats. What about older kids?

My daughter is 12, but she is a tiny little thing. I can find no boosters for her size, yet I know she's unsafe in a seat belt. Right now, she's using a backless booster, but when do I stop using that? What if she's 15 or 16 years old and still so tiny a seat belt isn't safe?



Ambassador - CPS Technician
What's her current height/weight? And what no back booster is she in now? Does she have a medical issue, or just a small kid? Is she neurotypical or does she have other special needs?

It's often that parents need to make tough decisions. This is going to be one of those for you.

I know my niece, who has a growth issue, was super tiny and still within the weight and height limits for her Marathon at age 8. My sister chose to move her to a booster even though she was just under the weight limit for the booster she chose, because she was *8*. And perfectly able to sit correctly, and they got a good belt fit with the booster. Parental decision. I supported that.


New member
I will be there in a few years. My 7 1/2 year old is 36 lbs and 42 inches. I joke that driver's Ed will be the first time in the front seat for him. But I don't know what I'm going to do if he stays tiny. Meanwhile, my 9 year old is super close to 5 stepping.


New member
I've always wondered this too. While my kids are giants, my nephew is tiny - 38lbs and 45" at nearly 9yrs old. When I ran carpool with him last school year I harnessed him in our Frontier, which obviously didn't go over well with him!

I have a girlfriend who is in her 30s and is only 5' and about 98lbs; I'm sure she could benefit from a booster most of the time!


New member
Unfortunately, I’m not fully up-to-date regarding the latest research and debates, as I haven’t been reading the forums as frequently as I would like in recent months. Nevertheless, I hope the below is helpful in some way (I apologize for the length – I have tried to answer each of your questions and offer some general thoughts as well).

Right now, she's using a backless booster, but when do I stop using that?

The best way of knowing if a backless booster (or any type of restraint) is required, is the five-step test. Have your daughter sit in the vehicle (in all rear seat positions if necessary), buckle the seatbelt, and then ask the following questions:

1. Does the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat?
2. Are knees bent comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
3. Does seatbelt cross the shoulder properly? (it should be centered over the collar bone)
4. Is the lap portion of the seatbelt low – touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated this way for the entire ride, every ride (awake and asleep)?

(If necessary, you can also check if the child’s feet are planted firmly on the floor).

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then some sort of seat or restraint is required.

I recommend reading this post on for more details on the five-step test and, given your situation, you might also be interested in the “Mythbusting: Once a 5-stepper, Always a 5-stepper” post, which details how a child can pass the test on one occasion and not do so on another.

The focus is always on little ones and rear-facing seats. What about older kids?

I have often considered the same thing. I honestly do not know enough to say why current debates, research, and guidelines have tended to focus more on younger children in recent years, however I would go as far to say the inconclusive research on the extended harnessing vs. boostering debate has been an important factor in the shift.

Obviously enough studies have been conducted to conclude that both approaches (when properly undertaken) are safe, however until the motivations, means, and/or financial resources become available for new research, I am at a loss as to imagine how the current child restraint market might develop to cater for those older children who are unsuited to the current format and categories of restraint design.

While I cannot be sure, I would suppose these older children simply constitute to small of a demographic to be a serious consideration for seat manufacturers (excluding manufacturers of special needs seats). I presume that manufacturers also rely on the fact children rarely belong to this demographic for any significant length of time; in short, they simply grow/develop quickly enough to be able to use some type of seat which is produced in accordance with the current format and atmosphere of the retail market.

Clearly however some children will remain unsuited to the range of seats currently on sale or offered by manufacturers in the future. Importantly, should the need for some sort of safety restraint remain when your daughter is 15 or 16 years old, there are options (I have listed some at the end of the message). Nonetheless, before considering these, I think it may help to mention three things – and I apologize if these are obvious!

• First, children don’t grow with any regularity. Do forgive me if I’m stating that which you have already considered, however in the three or fours years you’re contemplating, it may transpire that your daughter becomes able to use a standard adult seatbelt.

• Second, if the issue is purely relating to the fit of the adult seatbelt (and no maturity concerns or special needs are part of the equation), it is worth noting that not every child (or adult) is suited to every type of vehicle seat. While a person may fit well and find one vehicle seat comfortable, they may find the opposite in another seat in another vehicle.

• Third, the child restraint market is constantly evolving (even if slowly at times) and in the fours years under consideration, a new and suitable product may well become available.

What if she's 15 or 16 years old and still so tiny a seat belt isn't safe?

Nonetheless, should the above not prove relevant, there are plenty of options. In terms of seeking recommendations as to which might be suitable, I second CTPDMom; knowing your daughter’s height, weight, and any other relevant information will definitely help the members and experts on the forum make more accurate and beneficial suggestions.

Regarding your actual decision, it will (as highlighted by CTPDMom) be a very difficult choice. From my own point of view, I would begin by dividing the decision into three aspects; practical concerns, social factors, and financial considerations.

Practical Concerns

My personal belief is that the first question to ask should be “can the child be helped so the seatbelt does fit?”

Naturally, the first product to consider would be a backless booster (as your daughter has now). These are generally small, mostly inexpensive, often lightweight, and relatively portable. If that does not work (or the current backless booster you are using is not compatible with a new vehicle), then consider the next stage which would be a high-back booster. While certainly a little less practical than a backless booster, high-back boosters are, on the whole, still more portable and practical than a harnessed seat.

If a suitable booster seat cannot be found, then it is likely the inadequate fit of the vehicle seatbelt cannot be corrected and you will need to look at either standard five-point harness seats, special needs seats, or safety vests. With an older child (or teenager) the likelihood of finding a suitable harnessed seat is rather small, but perhaps not impossible. If a harnessed seat in which the child can sit safely and comfortably is also elusive, then I would consider special needs seats or safety vests.

While selecting a special needs seat is much the same as choosing a regular seat (the fit of the child in the seat, the fit of the seat in the vehicle, etc.), there will probably be a lack of opportunities to actually find a seat to try out. Sometimes hospitals are able to supply special needs seats (or at least the opportunity to try some seats), and also, while I do not recommend purchasing a used seat, you could check local advertisements (eBay, Craigslist, charities, etc.) and ask to see if the seller would allow you to visit so your daughter could try the seat (while these chances are rare and the seller may well turn down the request, I do believe it is always worth a simple honest email/phone call!).

Social Factors

This is probably the most difficult consideration. Personally, I would caution against over-simplifying the problem as doing so could easily reduce the issue to a “is the safety of the child more important than their self-esteem and self-confidence” type of question.

My personal view is that such a decision is in fact much more complicated and far more dependent on familial circumstances than it is on the ability to reduce and rationalize such a choice. In short, both are obviously very important and, in my own opinion, are inseparable.

I would always start with the child, rather than the choice itself. I would first consider the current situation; what is your daughter’s opinion of having to use a booster seat? Would she be happy to continue using it in the future? How does she prioritize safety among her other concerns (e.g. is, or would, she be okay with using a booster seat in front of her friends and peers)? Based on her understanding, if she really needed to be in a high-back booster/five-point harness/safety vest, would she understand why? Could you assess if her views will be the same in the future?

Of course, you may already know the answers, but asking these questions again (directly or otherwise) might help to let her know that her opinion is very important in any decisions you make. While it is extremely unlikely (perhaps impossible) that a 15 or 16 year old would willingly use a high-back booster/five-point harness/safety vest, I do believe they would likely be more agreeable (even if only slightly) to the prospect if the decision had been previously discussed and their opinions voiced in the process.

This is of course, just my own view and I certainly don’t claim this is better or worse than any other method. I do think however that a child of 12 or older should be part of the discussion about a subject of such importance (whether that also be a negotiation is of course entirely parental choice).

Financial Considerations

The importance of money will of course vary from family to family. That said, if you decide to purchase a special needs seat, it is worth noting that such seats tend to be very costly and if no special or medical needs are present, then I would imagine insurance is unlikely to assist with reducing the cost. As with regular car seats, the decision will involve calculating cost over time in addition to the upfront cost.

My personal suggestion would be to first search for (or keep using) a suitable a backless booster. If that is not feasible, I would recommend looking at a safety vest. The most common manufacturer of safety vests is E-Z-On Products and although they mainly cater for the school bus industry, they have a range of harnesses and safety vests for use in family vehicles. We use the 102PB and 103Z Vests and have found them excellent. Moreover, if I recall correctly, each vest cost about $125 including shipping.

This is of course just one idea and I’m sure there are many factors specific to your circumstances which will no doubt play a significant part in your decision. All the same, I hope this helps in some fashion and should you need anymore information about the E-Z-On Vests, I’d be happy to try and answer any questions.

Should it be of help, I have listed some other possible options below:

• Columbia Medical

2400 Spirit Car Seat

2500 Therapedic Car Seat

• E-Z-On Products

86Y Harness

103Z Vest

102PB Vest

• Merritt Manufacturing

The Roosevelt

The Churchill Booster

The Chamberlain Booster

• Recaro

Monza Nova 2 (Reha)

Start Plus

• Snug Seat

Pilot Booster

Traveller Plus

• Convaid

Carrot 3 Seat

• Special Tomato

Large MPS Car Seat


New member
Part of the answer to your question is "pelvis shape development." As kids develop into adults, the shape of their hipbones changes and is better able to keep the lap portion of the seatbelt down where it belongs instead of letting it creep up onto the abdomen. Some short adults are liking using the Safety 1st Incognito booster, though, because it does give them a better and more comfortable belt fit.

I second the questions above about her current height and weight and the presence of medical conditions.


New member
I never received notifications of these responses. Ooops! My daughter is 12 years old, weighs 66lbs and is 55 inches tall. She's neurotypical (although the rest of us aren't - and we're all 'normal' size). No issues. It's just good ol' genetics; Her paternal grandma is 4'11".


New member
My daughter is 12 and similar in size to yours until a recent growth spurt shot her up to 58 inches and 75lb. She still uses an Incognito in my van because she has to sit in the third row due to her sisters being in the captains chairs and he belt geometry is really weird and awkward. She is finally 5-stepping in most normal vehicles, thank goodness. I'm waiting for her to actually hit puberty (she's still not very far on the spectrum of that) and will likely let her drop any sort of device at that time. I don't make her take the Incognito anywhere else and haven't in over a year and instead focus on getting a seat with a headrest and a lap/shoulder belt and sitting correctly.


New member
I never received notifications of these responses. Ooops! My daughter is 12 years old, weighs 66lbs and is 55 inches tall. She's neurotypical (although the rest of us aren't - and we're all 'normal' size). No issues. It's just good ol' genetics; Her paternal grandma is 4'11".

My son is 11 and just about exactly that size. He uses an incognito in our van. In our sedan he can use the seat belt alone as it is a smallish rear center seat. Like the previous poster, I no longer make him use the booster in other people's cars. I have taught him to make sure there is a shoulder belt and head support and to put the lap belt as low as possible and always sit in the back seats unless he is the oldest/biggest kid and all other seats are full. Then he knows to push the front passenger seat as far back as possible.


New member
It's just good ol' genetics; Her paternal grandma is 4'11".

I understand entirely–my mother is also 4'11"!:)

I can find no boosters for her size, yet I know she's unsafe in a seat belt.

Could you explain why you believe she is unsafe in just the seatbelt?

Is the issue the fit of the seatbelt? Does she slide down the seat (slump) or move out of a safe position while travelling? Which question, or questions, of the five-step test does she not pass?

Just like any type of seat, some vehicle seats can be very uncomfortable for certain individuals (children or adults). This can result in passengers moving into unsafe positions while travelling which may occur consciously or unconsciously. This is particularly true of children as vehicle seats are designed to cater for adults. It could be–as both kater-tot82 and jaemom have highlighted–that your daughter simply finds the particular vehicle seat in question uncomfortable and could therefore pass the five-step test in another vehicle (or a different seat in the same vehicle).

Also, does your daughter’s seating position have a head restraint? Head restraints are essential to ensuring passengers (children and adults) travel safely, and if the seating position does not have a head restraint, then a backless booster is unsafe and a high-back booster or harnessed seat is required.

My daughter is 12 years old, weighs 66lbs and is 55 inches tall.

I have neither the experience nor knowledge of Cnidaria, kater-tot82, or jaemom regarding the Safety 1st Incognito backless booster, however as per my previous post I would also consider it the first option to investigate. You may be interested in this thread which shows a 9.5 year old using the Incognito who is a similar height and weight to your daughter.

If the Incognito does not prove viable, then you may wish to look into other backless boosters. Unfortunately, I have very little knowledge of the current range of backless booster seats, so I will leave other specific recommendations to more knowledgeable members on the forums.

Should the situation continue, and you are unable to find a suitable booster, there are other options. At her current weight and height your daughter could fit into a harnessed seat (torso height and other individual aspects allowing). Depending on how you prioritize finances, you might wish to narrow your options to the harnessed seats which would last her longest. While I’m not fully up-to-date with all possible options, some logical choices could be:

Britax Pinnacle Clicktight (Harness to 90lbs, and 58" in height)
Britax Frontier Clicktight (Harness to 90lbs, and 58" in height)
Diono Rainier (Harness to 90lbs, and 57" in height)
Diono Pacifica (Harness to 90lbs, and 57" in height)

If any of these should not prove suitable then I would recommend looking at a safety vest system or harnessed special needs seats (please see my previous post for a list of these options).

I don't make her take the Incognito anywhere else...and instead focus on getting a seat with a headrest and a lap/shoulder belt and sitting correctly.

My son is 11 and...I no longer make him use the booster in other people's cars. I have taught him to make sure there is a shoulder belt and head support and to put the lap belt as low as possible.

Social factors are without doubt very important and while it could be argued social motivations in choosing a seat or restraint should be excluded from your decision, I personally believe they are very important; any safety restraint, even if just the vehicle seatbelt, is far more likely to be used safely if the passenger feels comfortable using it.

I certainly don’t mean to overcomplicate or overanalyze the issue, however the need to be socially comfortable becomes evermore complex as children mature and their social consciousness naturally grows. In general terms, very young children in rear-facing seats will be content if physically comfortable, older children will often assess their situation in relation to their friends and peers, while some adults may even consider political viewpoints when considering seatbelt usage.

Clearly the decision must be made according to individual and familial circumstances, however I do think it is worth noting, like any other subject, how effective good education can be in managing this increasing importance of social factors and I definitely second kater-tot82 and jaemom regarding teaching your daughter how and why the seatbelt should fit a certain way. If a child understands how and why the vehicle seatbelt should fit correctly, they will not only be more accepting of using some sort of seat or restraint if required, but will probably be more confident and proud when they transition to using just the vehicle seatbelt be it in their family car, or another vehicle in which they travel less frequently and without their parents.

I hope this is helpful and should you need more information about the E-Z-On Vests, I’d be happy to try and answer any questions (or about anything else if I can!).:)


New member
A vest or harnessed combination seat (or SN seats) is overkill for a neurotypical 12yo

An Incognito would be my choice if she didn't 5step in my vehicle. I would not make her use a booster in other peoples cars. Fwiw, my 11yo is very tiny. She 5steps in my car so doesn't use a booster anymore. She does use a LBB in DHs truck.

Car-Seat.Org Facebook Group

Forum statistics

Latest member

You must read your carseat and vehicle owner’s manual and understand any relevant state laws. These are the rules you must follow to restrain your children safely. All opinions at Car-Seat.Org are those of the individual author for informational purposes only, and do not necessarily reflect any policy or position of Carseat Media LLC. Car-Seat.Org makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis. If you are unsure about information provided to you, please visit a local certified technician. Before posting or using our website you must read and agree to our TERMS.

Maxi Cosi is a proud sponsor of Car-Seat.Org!Graco is a Proud Sponsor of Car-Seat.Org!Nuna Baby is a Proud Sponsor of Car-Seat.Org!

Please  Support Car-Seat.Org  with your purchases of infant, convertible, combination and boosters seats from our premier sponsors above.
Shop travel systems, strollers and baby gear from Britax, Chicco, Clek, Combi, Evenflo, First Years, Graco, Maxi-Cosi, Nuna, Safety 1st, Diono & more! ©2001-2021 Carseat Media LLC