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Safety Institute Suggests Booster Seats Until Kids Reach 12

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - The safety message couldn't be clearer:  seat belts save lives. But, experts are reminding parents that seat belts were built for adults, so children may need to stay in booster seats much longer than is legally required.  In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is suggesting that may be as old as 12.

"I think that's great," said Jessica Benitez.  "As many wrecks as there are, as congested as the roadways are, people texting and driving, all that stuff, the safer we can keep the kids the better."

Benitez, a mother of two, says she can commiserate with parents whose kids may not like the car seats and boosters.  But, she never wavers and her instinct for safety is backed by solid research that says children need to be restrained while riding in vehicles.

According to the IIHS, children between the ages of four- and eight-years-old are 45-percent less likely to be injured in a motor vehicle crash when riding in booster seats, as opposed to wearing seat belts alone.  Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages one year old to 13.

"I think all parents want to do the right thing," said Shelli Stephens-Stidham, with the Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas at Parkland Hospital, "they just may not know what the right thing is."

The Injury Prevention Center works to raise community awareness about the need for proper child safety restraints.  The agency also hosts child safety/booster seat checks to help parents install the seats and make sure they're being used correctly.

The next car safety inspection is scheduled for Saturday, November 9 from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. at Mount Sinai Baptist Church. The church is located at 6819 Lake June Road, in Dallas. Families must call 214-590-4455 to make an appointment.

Another free car seat check is scheduled for this weekend in Tarrant County.  On November 9, parents can head to Castleberry Baptist Church in White Settlement. The seat check will be held between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  Appointments can be scheduled by calling 682-885-2634.  Those arriving without an appointment will be seen on a first come, first served basis.  Cook Children's Hospital and Safe Kids Tarrant County are sponsoring the event.

In Texas, state law requires that children ride in car seats or booster seats until 8-years-old.  But, safety experts say it is not the age, but the fit that matters.

"Kids need to stay in a booster seat until they can adequately fit in a seat belt and ride for a long period of time with their backs against the seat, their feet on the floorboard and their bottom near the bite of the seat," explained Stephens-Stidham.  "If you can keep your kid in a booster seat until they're 12 years old, then do that."

And while proper fit is key, experts say not all booster seats are the same.

The IIHS recently completed its review of booster seats.  Click here to read the agency's rankings and recommendations and check out examples of how seat belts should fit when children are properly restrained.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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