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SAFETY BELTS - Basics

When is a Child Ready for an Adult Safety Belt?

Until age eight, most children have not developed strong hipbones, and their legs and body are too short to allow the safety belt to fit properly. Safety belts are designed for small adults.

The lap portion of the safety belt must fit low and tight across the upper thighs. The shoulder portion of the safety belt should rest over the center of the shoulder and across the chest.


To be able to fit in a safety belt, a child must pass this 5-step test:

  • Be tall enough to sit without slouching,

  • Keep his/her back against the vehicle seat back,

  • Keep his/her knees completely bent over the edge of the seat

  • Keep his/her feet flat on the floor, and

  • Be able to stay comfortably seated this way for the entire trip.

Never put the shoulder portion of the safety belt under the child's arm or behind the child's back. This can cause severe internal injuries in a crash. If the safety belt does not fit properly the child should use a belt-positioning booster seat.

Always check safety belt fit on the child in every vehicle. A belt-positioning booster seat may be needed in some vehicles and not in others.

NOTE: ALWAYS read and follow the child safety seat instructions and the vehicle owner's manual. Don't rush your child into a safety belt to soon! Make sure the safety belt fits properly before taking your child out of his booster seat. REMEMBER: The Back Seat is Best – up to age 13.

What About Aftermarket Belt-Positioning Products?


Devices advertised to improve safety belt fit for older children and adults are presently not covered by government safety standards. These products are not recommended. They may help to improve the comfort of the shoulder portion of the safety belt but at the same time they may cause the lap portion of the safety belt to be placed over the soft tissues of the body possibly resulting in serious injury. Belt-positioning booster seats are the best solution for children who are too small for the adult safety belt.

Vehicle Installation Tips

Find a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician in your area

Air Bag Safety Information

NHTSA Ease of Use Ratings for Child Safety Seats

Frequently Asked Questions

This site was designed by the Illinois Department of Transportation - Division of Traffic Safety

This website was developed using research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can be contacted at www.nhtsa.dot.gov or 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (1-888-327-4236).