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Keep them safe: What every parent needs to know about child car seats

“Is my child safe in the back seat of my vehicle?” 

It’s a question in the back of most parents’ minds every time they glance in the review mirror as they ferry their kids around to school, sports, family events and play dates. 

The truth is, as infants grow out of a baby seat and into something forward-facing as they mature, child car seats have different functions and requirements.  

Whether or not a car seat is safe for your child really depends on their age, the kind of seat and how it’s installed, according to Kristine D’Arbelles, senior director, public affairs at CAA National. 

“A properly used car seat can reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent. We believe using the right child car seat is the best way to prevent serious injury,” she says. 

“CAA has been helping parents keep their children safe inside and outside the vehicle for decades. We educate parents by providing tips on how to properly use a car seat, and many CAA Clubs across the country have even hosted car seat clinics,” she notes. 

So how do you determine the right car seat and installation for your precious cargo?  

Here is CAA’s expert advice, as part of Car Seat Awareness Week in Canada (September 18 and 22). 

Getting the right car seat is important for your child’s safety

Using the proper car seat for your child and having it installed correctly can substantially reduce the number of injuries and casualties in vehicle accidents. In fact, for children younger than age four, using car seats lowers the risk of hospitalization by 67 per cent. According to CAA National, proper booster seats usage for children at that stage leads to 59 per cent more protection than just a seat belt 

Ensure that the car seat is correctly installed

Not only does your child need to be in the proper car seat for their size, but its proper installation is critical. If the car seat is installed too loosely, serious injury or fatality could result if a collision occurs.  

Before you install, read and understand: 

  • The vehicle owner’s manual section on anchors and installation of a child car seat 
  • The user manual for the child car seat itself 
  • The restrictions and laws in your province or territory on the stages of car seat use 
  • Safety notices and potential recalls 

The four stages (and ages) for child car seats

There are four stages of protection for your little one while riding in the car. Each province and territory in Canada may have different restrictions regarding car seat stages, so make sure you are familiar with those in your region.  

Stage 1: Rear-facing car seat

To protect your infant’s or young child’s head, neck and back, they should ride in the back in an infant seat, facing the vehicle’s rear. In Ontario, babies start in a rear-facing car seat until they weigh 9kg (20lbs). Ensure the harness straps are firm but not tight. As your little one gets bigger, you must assess the fit and readjust as needed.   

Car seat tip: Always look for the National Safety Mark when buying a car seat as proof that it meets Canadian standards, and ensure the seat is installed correctly according to the owner’s manuals. 

Stage 2: Forward-facing car seats

When do you move them over to a front-facing seat? Young children sit in a forward-facing car seat between 9kg to 18kg (20lbs to 40lbs).

However, the Canadian Pediatrics Society advises that once your baby outgrows the infant seat, they can be safely transported in a larger, rear-facing seat. As long as your child still fits within the manufacturer’s weight and height limits, they are safest using a rear-facing seat, even up to four years of age.  

Stage 3: Booster seats

A booster raises a child so they can sit more comfortably against the seat back with their knees bent, therefore, the seat belt works more effectivelyKids who have outgrown the forward-facing seat will move on to using a booster seat when they weigh between 18kg to 36kg (40lbs to 80lbs). Booster seats allow for more protection than using just a seat belt. The child’s head must be supported while using a booster seat, and a lap/shoulder belt must be used. 

Stage 4: Seat belts

When your child outgrows a booster seat and the seat belt fits them appropriately, they can use one independently. Around the age of eight, when a child is at least 144cm or 4’ 9″ and 36kg or 80lbs, they can start using the regular seat belt in your vehicle. The lap and shoulder belt straps must be worn properly, and it’s safest for any kid aged 13 or under to continue sitting in the back seat. 

Safety tip: Although teenagers manage their own buckle-up safety, drivers are actually responsible for ensuring that all passengers under the age of 16 are securely strapped in.  

Sign up for a car seat clinic! Seats for Kids offers car seats clinics in Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Kingston. Learn more about their clinic schedule at  

Want to know more about car seat safety? Head over to the CAA National website for more information about what you need to learn about your child’s car seat.  

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