Child Safety Seats: When to Transition to a Booster Seat


Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of young children in the United States. The best way to protect children in the car is to put them in the right seat, at the right time, and use it the right way.

Always remember before each ride …

  • Place your infant in the child safety seat on the first ride home from the hospital. Children who ride in safety seats as infants are much easier to keep in the seats as toddlers.
  • Never hold a child in your lap while riding.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for correct installation.
  • Get a tight fit—the seat should not move more than 1 inch from side to side or toward the front of the vehicle.
  • Send in the car seat registration card to be notified in case your car seat is recalled.
  • Be consistent! Buckle the car seat into the vehicle correctly on every ride.
  • Remember: Infants face backward, toddlers (older than 2 years old) face forward. The rear seat is the safest place in the vehicle.
  • Never secure an infant in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger air bag. The backseat is the safest place for children of any age.
  • Never use a car seat that has been involved in a crash.
  • Set a good example by using your safety belt every time you travel.

Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing seats in the backseat until they are at least two years old or reach the maximum height and weight listed on the label of the car seat. This offers the best protection for the child’s neck. Never put a child in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger air bag.

Rear-facing car seats can be infant models or convertible models. A rear-facing seat should recline at a 45-degree angle to keep a baby’s head from rolling forward and blocking their airway. Keep harness straps snug (allow one finger of space under the harness at the collarbone) and fasten the harness clip at armpit level.

Some models have a base that can be left installed in the vehicle while the seat is used to carry the baby. If the car seat has a carrying handle, put the handle down while in the vehicle.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Children who have outgrown their rear-facing seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness. Forward-facing seats can be convertible or forward-facing-only models.

Place the car seat in an upright position. Fasten the harness clip at armpit level. Keep harness straps snug. Put harness straps in upper slots at or above shoulder level.

School-aged Children - Transitioning to a Booster Seat 

Belt-positioning booster seats are designed for children who have outgrown their forward-facing child safety seat but have not reached the weight or height that’s needed for the vehicle seat belt to fit properly.

All booster child restraints are designed for forward-facing use only. Some booster seats must be used with both lap and shoulder belts. Each manufacturer provides specific instructions regarding proper use and installation of their child seats.

If you need additional assistance in figuring out which car or booster seat is best for your child, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security has partnered with Tennessee Highway Safety Office to provide a height and weight calculator

Older Children

Usually, children over 80 pounds—this is typically around age 8, or when they’re 4 feet 9 inches tall—can fit correctly in adult seat belts. Lap and shoulder belts should fit low over the hips and upper thighs, and the shoulder belt should fit snug across the chest. All children younger than 13 years old should ride in the back seat.

Never put shoulder belts under a child's arm or behind the back. Review your owner's manual to fully understand how your safety belts work.

Visit or for additional information on child passenger safety.

What if I can’t afford a child safety seat?

If you absolutely cannot afford to purchase a safety seat for your infant or older child, there are several local agencies that may be able to furnish one for you. To find the agency nearest you, please email Rachel Heitmann at the Tennessee Department of Health, or call 615-741-0368.