Becoming a parent is challenging enough but figuring out child safety seats isn’t easy.
And, while they’re nothing new in Canada, child car seats are used improperly almost 80 per cent of the time, says Transport Canada. But motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death and injury for children in this country.
Common mistakes include: Using a used car seat that has been recalled or has missing parts; placing the car seat in the wrong location in the vehicle; incorrect installation or buckling; reclining your child at the incorrect angle and moving to a forward-facing car seat too soon. All these mistakes can be fatal.
Properly installed child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by 71 per cent. The Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada also reports that 30 per cent of kids in booster seats did not meet the 18 kg (40 lb) weight minimum.
Here’s a quick reference guide to the definitions of each of the three stages for child restraints for vehicles, along with a basic set of rules and suggestions all parents should follow.
There are three established styles of car seats for kids.
Stage 1/Rear-facing seat:This seatputs the child with their back to the driver so they’re looking out the rear window. This is considered the safest position for young kids as it provides the necessary support for their heads and necks, and it’s legally required across Canada for all children from birth until reaching a weight of at least 20 lbs, with most jurisdictions having even more stringent requirements.
It's recommended parents keep their kids in Stage 1 for as long as possible, up until the child outgrows the height and weight restrictions of the rear-facing seat.
Stage 2/Forward Facing Seat: This orients the child in the same direction as other passengers. This type, as with a Stage 1 seat, is equipped with its own five-point harness. This type of seat must always be installed with the rear tether strap in use so that it doesn’t lift away from the car’s seatback in a crash.
Stage 3/Booster seat: This seat is used in conjunction with the car’s built-in seat belt. It’s recommended to put this off for as long as possible because the seat is no longer doing any of the work to keep your child safe at this stage. The purpose of the booster is to ensure that the seat belt follows the correct path — the shoulder strap needs to sit squarely on the child’s shoulder, not climbing up onto the neck, and the lap belt should fall low across the hips, not higher onto the torso. It is recommended that children remain in a booster seat until they reach a height of 145 cm (4 ft 9 in).
So, what can you do to make sure you are using your car seat correctly? In addition to choosing a seat that properly fits your vehicle and carefully reading and following the manufacturer’s instructions, consider the following tips for proper car seat installation:
For added assurance, parents can discuss and examine their installation with a certified technician at a car seat inspection station. Most police services, many road safety agencies and several privately-run companies offer free or fee-based installations and inspections of child safety seats. Make sure they are certified by the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada.
Once kids grow out of a car seat or booster, a properly fitting seat belt is the key to keeping them safe. Although they’re smaller than an adult, a child’s seat belt should still rest on their upper thighs and chest, not the belly and neck. For older children and adults, the use of a seat belt cuts the risk of serious injury in half.