Keeping children safe while riding in vehicles is a top priority for caregivers, but it often causes confusion. Each state has different laws so understanding your own state’s restrictions can be difficult. Let’s take a look at Wisconsin’s car seat restrictions.

For rear facing car seats, children under one year old and less than 20 pounds should be in a rear facing car seat that fits their weight and height. Rear facing seats protect the delicate head, neck, and spinal cord of infants, and the shell of the car seat absorbs the forces of the crash. After a child has reached one year old and weighs more than 20 pounds, they can legally transition to a front facing car seat with a harness.

The law then states that children have to ride forward facing with a harness until they are four years old and 40 pounds. After a child has reached this age and weight limit, they can legally transition to a booster seat.

Booster seats raise and position a child, so the lap and shoulder belt fit properly over the strong parts of their body. If the lap belt goes across your child’s stomach or the shoulder belt cuts into their neck, they are not ready for a booster.

When deciding to transition your child to a booster, keep his or her height and behavior in consideration. Will the child keep a seat belt on properly? Does it fit properly? Often children are too short for a booster.

Once a child reaches 8 years old, 80 pounds or 4 feet 9 inches, legally a child can transition into using only a seat belt. When deciding if your child is ready for a seatbelt, keep height and behavior in mind as well. Some children are not ready. Some kids may need to ride in a booster until they are 10-12 years old.

When making this decision, look at how the seat belt fits them and how they sit. Are they tall enough to keep their knees naturally bent over the edge of the seat? Does the lap belt fit snugly across their upper thighs (not their stomach) and does the shoulder belt come across the shoulder and chest (not their neck and face)? If they meet those requirements, then they are ready to graduate from a booster.

While state restrictions are a helpful guide, parents should consider going above and beyond the state requirements to ensure their kid’s safety. Just because state laws may allow your child to move to the next car seat, does not mean it is always best for them. Many car seats (front and back facing) have higher weight limits, so parents can keep their kids in the safest seat for longer.

Always remember, just because your child can move to the next seat doesn’t mean he or she should.

If you have questions about your car seat – fitting it for your child, installing it in your car, or determining if it is safe and appropriate, you can contact a certified child passenger safety technician. In Burnett County, the technicians are located at the Burnett County Family Resource Center and the St. Croix Tribal Center.

Submitted by: Annie Lupo-Gondwe, Program Coordinator/Family Support Worker at Burnett County Family Resource Center

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