The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children ride in a harnessed car seat for as long as possible. The AAP recommendations highlight that when you move a child from rear facing to forward facing with a harness to forward facing with a harness to a booster and from a booster to a seat belt- each step up in car seats is a decrease in your child's level of protection. Leave your child in their 5 point harness for as long as possible, until your child has genuinely outgrown it by weight or height. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that children ride in a harnessed car seat through age 7 (if they have not yet outgrown it).
A 5 point harness car seat is outgrown when ONE of the following happens:
-the child has hit the maximum weight limit of the seat with the internal harness
-the tips of the child's ears are even with the shell
-the harness is at the child's shoulders when used in the top most harnessed slot*
*When front facing, the harness must be at or slightly above a child's shoulders
A child can safely transition to a booster seat when ALL of the following apply:
-the child is at LEAST 4 years old (preferably age 5-6 to get the hips bones more developed)
-the child is at LEAST 40 lbs
-the child is capable of sitting still without playing with the seat belt or leaning over to pick up a toy; the child needs to be able to stay in position awake or asleep
A booster seat puts a child in charge of their own safety. If a child were to unbuckle themselves or were to lean over to pick up at toy at the time of a crash, it could mean the difference between life and death. There are higher weight (and height) harnessed car seats on the market to keep a child in a harness longer such as the Evenflo Maestro, Evenflo SecureKids, Graco Nautilus, and Britax Frontier 85.
A booster seat's job is to correctly position the adult seat belt over a child's body. Some studies say that there are not any safety benefits of a high-back booster and other studies say that high-back boosters offer more side impact protection. Here is a very detailed article on the debate about backless vs high-back boosters: http://carseatblog.com/3966/the-5-step-test/
A backless booster is an appropriate choice only if a child has a headrest that goes up at least to the tips of their ears for whiplash protection. I would only recommend backless boosters if the shoulder belt falls naturally over a child's shoulder. Children under 7 are most likely too small to have the shoulder belt fall naturally on a child. Some backless models have a shoulder belt positioning clip, but these are often not used by parents as they are a little difficult to use.
Does your child sleep in the car? A high-back booster provides a nice place for a child to rest their head.
Seat belts were designed for the average adult sized man. Seat belts were not designed for children. Children need to use a booster until they pass the 5 step test. This test is a series of questions that you ask yourself when you buckle your child in the car without their booster seat in place. Here is a very detailed article written by a child passenger safety technician (CPST) on how to conduct the 5 step test: http://carseatblog.com/3966/the-5-step-test/
Most children pass the 5 step test when they are around 5 feet tall (adult sized). Most children reach this height when they are 10-12 years old. This means that most children need to use a booster seat until they are 10, 11, or even 12 years old! I would choose a high-back booster for a child transitioning to a booster.
For a child transitioning to a booster, I would definitely go with a high-back booster as it reminds children to stay in position and not slump over. The Graco Turbobooster (in highback) is a great choice for a child transitioning to a booster. Also, when a child is 7-8 years old and is scared to be "seen" in a booster, you can always make the compromise to take the back off (the Turbobooster can be used both in high-back and backless). If your child were already in a backless booster were to complain about being in a booster, there wouldn't be a safe way to compromise.
Remember that car crashes are the leading cause of both disability and death for children under 12 years old. Statistics show that more than 95?f child safety seats are used or are installed incorrectly. That is why I recommend ALL parents to get their child's car seat/ booster seat checked by a child passenger safety technician (CPST). You can find one at http://www.seatcheck.org/
If you have any questions regarding your child's car seat installation you can ask a CPST at http://www.car-seat.org/
You don't have to register to ask a question, but you do need to register to post a picture. I would highly encourage you to post a picture of your child buckled up in their booster seat. A CPST will evaluate the seat belt fit the booster seat provides.