Illinois, like all states, sets its own guidelines for child restraints in motor vehicles. Under Illinois law, children must be restrained in a car seat or booster seat until the age of 8. From 8 through 18, children must be restrained, but a regular seat belt is allowed. There is no limitation on children riding in the front seat.
Age and Size
Illinois law specifies that children under age 8 must use a child restraint system. The law does not designate a minimum age or size to graduate from a car seat to a booster seat, but it notes that most car seats are rated only to a maximum weight of 40 pounds. The state points out that seat belts are designed for those who have reached 80 pounds and 4 feet, 9 inches in height, but does not have a provision for graduating from a booster seat based on size. Instead, Illinois recommends that children 8 and older who have not reached the minimum size keep using booster seats even when they are no longer required.
Illinois has a provision in its law known as the 40-pound exemption. This part of the law recognizes that booster seats cannot be used in vehicle seats that lack a lap belt and shoulder belt combination. If your child weighs at least 40 pounds and your car has no seats that provide a combination lap belt and shoulder belt, then you may place the child solely in a lap belt. If a lap belt and shoulder belt combo is available anywhere in the vehicle, you are required to use it in conjunction with a booster seat.
Selecting a Booster Seat
The CarSeat.org website notes that there are two basic booster seat designs. High-back seats provide support for the child’s head and neck. Backless booster seats lift the child up but rely on the car’s seat to support the child’s upper body. Backless seats are appropriate only for children who can hold themselves upright. Note that high sides or wings that hold the seat belt away from the child could prevent the child from being properly restrained during a crash.
The state of Illinois suggests that after your child turns 8, you use a five-point test to determine when your child is ready to graduate from a booster seat. Have your child sit in the vehicle seat. Determine whether he is able to sit without slouching and whether his back rests comfortably against the seat back. His knees should bend naturally along the edge of the seat and his feet should rest flat on the floor. Make sure this position is comfortable and your child is able to maintain it throughout your journey. Perform this test in each vehicle, as due to seat designs, some children need a booster seat in some vehicles but not others. Also check that the lap belt fits across the child’s thighs and the shoulder belt touches his chest rather than his neck.