Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to outsmart a squirmy worm in a booster - Use the AUTOMATIC LOCKING RETRACTOR. Learn how below...

Do you have a squirmy worm riding in a booster seat?  Is your 6 year old half way across the back seat, but still buckled into their booster?  Do you tell your child in a seat belt to "sit still" a dozen times a car ride and it doesn't seem to work?  

For many kids, the solution is as simple as putting the seat belt into a special locking mode (in technical terms, engaging the automatic locking retractor).   
**Please note: If your child is 4 or younger and/or locking the seat belt does not keep them sitting still, then we would strongly recommend the child ride in a 5 point harness that is certified for bigger kids (i.e. the harness goes to at least 60 pounds).

Almost all shoulder belts have a retractor. The retractor is the device that not only spools the excess belt, but also locks the belt so that it holds you tight in a crash.

All shoulder belts typically have an emergency locking retractor.  This means that during normal driving the belt is loose - it slides freely in and out - but locks tight in an emergency, like when you slam on the brakes.  During normal driving, with the shoulder belt in the emergency locking mode, you can lean forward and back - an amount of freedom of movement that is just too much for many children in booster seats and seat belts as they can't resist the urge to wiggle and squirm.

If your car is a 1996 or newer, the retractor is usually a switchable retractor - meaning that it can switch from the usual mode of locking only in an emergency, to a mode where it locks at all times - called the automatic locking mode.  Changing the belt from the emergency to automatic locking modes is easy - simply pull the shoulder belt out all the way (do it slowly) - when you get to the very end, let the belt go back in.  As it goes back in you will likely hear a ratcheting sound - and if you give a gentle pull you will notice that the belt is locked.

In the automatic locking mode, the shoulder belt only gets shorter - it does not get longer.  Meaning, you can not lean forward to pick up your toy or fight with your sibling on the other side of the car.  With the belt in the automatic locking mode, the seat belt holds tight at all times just like the child was used to when they were riding in a 5 point harness car seat. 

Some cars do not have a switchable retractor.  Most Jeep, Chrysler, and Dodge vehicles do not have switchable retractors - they only have the emergency locking retractor.  Other vehicles that may not have a switchable retractor are some vehicles made by GM, Ford, Saab, and Volvo. 


  1. what if your car is old and you dont have one of those?

  2. Anonymous: if your car does not have the automatic locking retractor, then I would recommend trying some behavior modification. Specifically, praise the child at very short intervals (every 2-3 minutes) for sitting still - this will make them more likely to sit still as kids work for praise. If this doesn't work, the child may need to ride in a 5 point harness until they are mature enough to be able to sit still in the seat belt with the booster.

  3. I have the switchable retractor and it was a great help when my daughter was smaller cause all she did was wiggle around. Thank you to whoever invented them

  4. When doing this is there any way to avoid having to unthread and rethread the booster with each use?

  5. Molly: Which type of booster are you using? Is it a high back booster with a shoulder belt guide? If the shoulder belt guide is one that is wide and allows the belt to freely slide in and out, you shouldn't have to rethread with each use. If, however, you have a booster with a tight shoulder belt guide (one that tends to leave slack in the belt when the child leans forward as the belt gets stuck in the guide and doesn't go back in when the child leans back), you may want to try not using the shoulder belt guide (just double check the manual to make sure it is optional - it is on most).

    Did that help?