What if your vehicle seat belt buckles are hard to access due to a car seat or booster seat sitting too close to them? This can affect a child in a booster, who may have a lot of trouble buckling themselves in if the space is tight (and you might have trouble accessing it too if you want to help them.) It can also affect the empty seating position next to a car seat or booster, where an adult would have trouble accessing the buckle for their own seat belt due to the proximity of the car seat next to it. Most everyone would agree that the boostered child must be buckled in, but what about the adult sitting next to the child? Can’t you just sit next to your child without buckling your seat belt, if the seat belt is too hard to access?
NO! Your child is not safe in their properly installed and used car seat or booster if you or another person is sitting next to them unrestrained. (Actually you would be endangering every other passenger in the car,) And of course you would not be safe either! All passengers must be buckled in with seat belts or in properly used car seats.
So what to do about this problem? Here are some solutions.
Our Car Seat Buying Guide has sections on narrow infant seats, boosters, and convertibles, to help you choose the best seat for your vehicle.
We want to call out two boosters (since this problem occurs frequently with boosters): The Maxi Cosi Rodifix booster is the best highback booster for narrow spaces because of its narrow footprint and its lack of armrests. These design elements make it much easier to see the seat belt buckle and to get your hand in to reach it and use it. The Graco Rightguide backless booster has a similiarly narrow and buckling-friendly design.
Sometimes, no matter how narrow the booster, it is too hard to get a hand in to buckle or unbuckle the seat belt each time. Try having the child climb into a buckled booster as shown in this video.
This action makes the seat belt buckle available for the adult or child sitting next to the car seat. Proceed with installation of the car seat, but as you do it, have a helper buckle the potentially unusable seat belt next to the car seat, and pull that seat belt as tight as possible, to move it away from the car seat being installed. This prevents the car seat from sitting on top of the buckle needed for the person next to it. Note this works best for flexible buckles and not so much (or at all) for rigid buckles. Here’s a video showing this technique.
Try what we show in the video below if your seat belt buckle is mostly rigid (but has a little bit of give) like this one. Any soft material will do – washcloth, folded paper, etc.
It’s easier to buckle and unbuckle a child in a 5 point harness than in a booster. When space is tight or if it’s hard to access the seat belt buckle because it’s flush with the vehicle seat, keeping a child in a 5-point harness may be a good solution.
We recommend trying the Chicco MyFit which is relatively narrow on the outside but has a higher harness capacity (by virtue of a really high top shoulder strap height) than almost any other seat.
If the child wants to be more independent in their own unbuckling, check out the UnBuckleMe