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As parents, we love watching our children progress. We eagerly cheer as they begin to crawl and walk, and sniff back tears as they head off to their first day of preschool donning their new backpack. We genuinely get excited to watch them move into newer and greater things. So many parents treat upgrading car seats with that same enthusiasm, and rush their children through the stages, such as prematurely forward-facing their toddlers or buying your preschooler a car seat that just utilizes the regular seat belt. We’re here today to discuss why you should keep your child harnessed in the car for as long as possible.
Around the time of your child’s fourth birthday, the ossification of their spine is considerably more mature than a toddler’s, and their head is much more proportional to their body. Once your child has successfully transitioned into forward-facing in their convertible car seat, many times around preschool age, parents decide that it is time for their child to move out of their old car seat, and they will often times purchase a high-back booster or a booster that is meant to be paired with the seatbelt. Not only is this purchase premature and unnecessary, it isn’t the safest option!
Keeping your child in a 5-point harness for as long as possible is the safest way for your child to ride in a vehicle.
1. It keeps them in the correct position:
- When your child is using a seatbelt, the seatbelt must be in a perfect position across their bodies in order to effectively work in a vehicle collision. It cannot be positioned too low, or too high up (across the neck). Kids are wiggle worms! They shift in their seats. They occasionally fall asleep. They drop things on the floor and try to reach for it themselves. Any and all movement can cause the seat belt to move out of proper position, thus rendering itself potentially ineffective in the case of a car crash.
- A high back booster seat will help guide the belt and keep it from shifting drastically. But keep in mind one key fact: race car drivers utilize a five-point harness! We aren’t suggesting you’re the next NASCAR superstar, but there is truth in the fact that people (and especially children) are safer in a harness.
- We spoke with Allana Pinkerton, who is the Global Safety Advocate for Diono and is also a Child Passenger Safety Instructor, and she said the following:
Keeping a child harnessed spreads crash forces over the strongest parts of the body. Transitioning too soon to a booster may be risky. It’s important to remember that the pelvic bones (they are in three pieces) on a child may not fuse together until between the ages of three and six. This development is important in order for the lap belt portion of the seat belt to stay down low during a crash. One of the other important factors to consider when transitioning your child to a booster is their level of maturity. Children must stay in position when riding in a seat belt in order for the seat belt and booster seat to provide adequate protection.* ”
2. Use the 5 point harness until you can’t anymore:
- Most convertible car seats (also known as 3-in-1 or 4-in-1 seats) can be used forward-facing for quite a while. On the lower end of the range, some “max” out at 55 lbs., whereas some can go upwards to 80-90 lbs. while using the 5 point harness. Those high weight ranges are there for a reason: it’s safer for the child to be in a harness!
3. Utilize Correct Harness Position:
- Having a chest clip on car seats is a North American trend; in fact, in most European countries, they are outlawed. Chest clips in Europe are not required because they want a one-step process to extract a child in case of emergencies.
- If the chest clip is placed too low, it can crush and damage the lungs, gall bladder, stomach, liver and pancreas.
- If the chest clip is placed too high, it can crush the bronchial tube, break the clavicle, and cause damage to the carotid artery.
- One of the main purposes of a chest clip accompanying the harness is to make it harder for a child to easily “slip out.” Having a harness ensures correct positioning in the car seat, and having a properly placed chest clip keeps them snug and secure inside the seat. They can’t loop a 5 point harness behind their armpit like they easily could with a regular seatbelt.
4. Seat belts were designed for the average sized adult:
- 3 point seat belts that come standard in a car were designed to fit the average sized adult. They have been deemed an acceptable restraint in crash tests, therefore car manufacturers have no additional incentives to go above and beyond for safety aspects.
- Take a look at how a seatbelt fits an adult. Now think about how it would look on a 4 year old. Even though boosters and non-harnessed boosters hold the seatbelt in a more appropriate way to fit a small child, that child is going to wiggle, squirm, or fall asleep, and the average seatbelt is designed to move along with them. Having a harnessed booster seat holds them back and prevents them from wiggling into a dangerous position, or falling asleep and slumping on top of the cross-chest seatbelt, and rendering it into an unsafe position.
“A survey in the US in 2006 found that almost half (44%) of children between 40 and 60 pounds were not in front facing child safety seats and the appropriate child restraint for this weight group. In the same survey, the NHTSA determined that only 14% of children between 40-60 lbs. remained in a front facing harnessed seat.” (3)
Diono is a favorite brand of Daily Mom, because their seats host some of the highest limits on the market for rear- facing, as well as harnessed forward facing. The Diono RadianRXT is the perfect seat to buy your child and can last them for a long time while suiting a host of needs. If you live in a multiple-child household, you’ll love how slim the RadianRXT is, which allows for 3 seats to fit side by side in the backseat of most cars and SUVs. (The seat is only 17″ wide)! It also boasts top of the line safety features like a steel alloy frame, aluminum reinforced side walls, and energy absorbing EPS foam.
The 10 year life of the Diono RadianRXT is impressive, and grows with your child into different life stages, from extended rear-facing to extended harness use. We also love how Diono always goes above and beyond, and offers great accessories to accompany the seats, such as a cup holder, seat protector and organizer and even sun shades.
Our favorite part of the Diono RadianRXT is its ability to fit rear-facing to 45 lbs. (one of the highest weight limits on the market) as well as the ability to use the harness forward facing until 80 lbs. and/or 57″ tall! Once your child hits 80 lbs., it can be converted into a high-back booster, and the child can use that until 120 lbs. The RadianRXT can easily serve your child from infancy until they are ready to graduate to just wearing a seatbelt.
- Full steel frame and aluminum reinforced sides for unmatched safety
- Comfortably seats rear-facing children from 5-45 lbs., forward-facing children from 20-80 lbs. in a 5-point harness, then converts to a booster for children up to 120 lbs.
- Unique SuperLATCH system makes installation easy
- It fits 3 across in most mid-size vehicles, folds flat for travel, and is FAA certified
- Booster mode from 50-120 lbs. (40 to 57 inches)
- NCAP crash tested, the industry benchmark for verifying child seat performance in severe accident conditions
- Infant body support cushions and memory foam for added comfort
- Energy absorbing EPS foam and side impact protection provides added safety
- Safestop® energy-absorbing harness
- Additional forward-facing recline position to accommodate different types of contoured vehicle seats, 12-position adjustable headrest, 5 shoulder and 3 buckle positions deliver a comfortable ride.
- Rear-facing tether capability
- LATCH installation
- Additional set of harness pads included to use only when the child is over 65 lbs. in the 5-point harness
- Expandable sides and long seat bottom allow proper leg support
- Low-sitting profile makes it easy for your child to board
- Angled cup holder keeps a variety of drinks upright and within easy reach
- Cover is machine washable (we do not recommend one with an agitator) and dryable
- Rubber bottom grips for no-slip installation
- 10 year life
We hope this article has inspired you to slow down and not rush through car seats, and instead, utilize the one you have until it’s met its fullest potential. There’s no doubt that everyone would be safer riding in a harnessed seat, but since that’s not available for adults, why not give it to your preschooler and young child where it is easily accessible? It’s not too late to dig out your old harnessed seat and check out the expiration date and weight/height limits. If your child objects to the change, try having a conversation with them about how you want to protect them and make them ride in the safest way possible.
We’d love to hear your stories about your car seat journeys in the comments below. If you want to see some of ours, check out this post.
Child photographed is 4 years old, 42.5″ tall and weighs 38 pounds.
Photo Credits: The Memoirs of Megan | Diono USA
Sources: https://thecarseatlady.com/booster-seats/ | Allana Pinkerton- Global Safety Advocate for Diono &Child passenger safety instructor | https://mbeans.com/spillingthebeans/baby/car-seats/european-standards-vs-american-standards-car-seat-edition/ | https://www.carseatsite.com/EH_handout.pdf