Car Seat Safety for Babies and Children

Infant Only Car Seat
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Chest clip should be at armpit level. Harness straps must be flat and snug - only one finger fitting between the strap and the child’s collar bone.
Car seat safety for babies: Rear-facing seats

If you plan to transport your baby in any car, you must use a rear-facing infant seat until your baby is at least 1 year old and weighs 10 kg (22 lbs), depending on the brand of car seat. If your baby outgrows her rear-facing seat before the age of one, choose a convertible car seat that can be used up to a higher height and weight limit. The longer you use a rear-facing infant seat that fits correctly, the safer your child will be in a crash. Babies have heavier, larger heads and smaller, weaker necks than older children and adults. A rear-facing car seat protects your baby’s head, neck, and spine. In a crash or sudden stop, the force of the crash is spread across the back, which is the strongest part of your baby’s body.  

Here are a few tips for the safe use of your baby's car seat: 

  • All car seats made in Canada come with a round sticker with a maple leaf, which means that the seat meets Canadian safety standards. Look for this sticker on the plastic shell of the seat.
  • Make sure the car seat is properly installed according to the manufacturer's instructions before your baby is discharged from the hospital.
  • Car seat expiry dates are printed directly on the seat. If the car seat is expired, it is not safe to use. If you are not sure about your car seat's expiry date, contact Transport Canada.
  • The safest place to install a car seat is in the middle of the back seat. Never install a rear-facing car seat in the front seat if there is an active passenger air bag.
  • Never use a car seat that has been involved in a car crash, even if no damage is visible.
  • Make sure the harness straps are fit snugly on your baby. You should only be able to put one finger between your baby's chest and the harness. The chest clip should be positioned at the baby's armpit.
  • Do not leave your baby alone in a car seat.
  • Do not use a car seat in place of a crib at home. It is best for babies to sleep in a crib that meet Canadian safety standards.  

Here are a few tips for the safe use of your baby’s car seat outside of the car: 

  • Always put the car seat on the floor. Do not place the car seat on top of furniture or counters. Babies can rock the car seat over the edge or the car seat could be knocked off.
  • Always stay close to your baby when she is in the car seat.
  • Make sure your child is buckled in with the harness straps at all times.  

If your baby has special health concerns, you may need a special type of car seat to transport her. For example, a premature baby, or one who was born with breathing problems, may experience low heart rate, low oxygen levels, or breathing problems if she travels in a regular car seat. A special “car bed” may be provided for your baby in such cases. There are other, special types of car seats for babies with other health problems. Ask your paediatrician for more information.  

Car seat safety for children: Forward-facing seats 

After your baby reaches at least one year of age and 10 kg (22 lbs) in weight, you can move her to a forward-facing seat. She will need to be transported in this type of seat until she reaches 18 kg (40 lbs) in weight and 40 inches in length. Some forward-facing car seats can be used for children up to 30 kg (65 lbs) in weight. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions with regard to height and weight recommendations and installation requirements.  

As of 2002, most new cars and car seats have a new system called the Universal Anchorage System (UAS), also called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Check with your manufacturer's instructions to find out if your car is equipped with this feature. The UAS system does not require a seat belt in order to secure a car seat. Only forward-facing car seats use a tether strap.  

Some cars have built-in car seats. If you have a car with a built-in car seat, please consult your owner's manual for weight and height limits.  

Car seat safety for older children: Booster seats 

Once your child has outgrown the height and weight limits of her forward-facing car seat, she can move into a booster seat. A booster seat elevates your child so that the regular seat belt in the car will fit properly around her hips and chest. Booster seats can hold children up to 36 to 45 kg (80 to 100 lbs), depending on the model. The longer you keep your child in a booster seat, the safer she will be. Putting your child in a seat belt before she is big enough puts her at risk for serious injuries or death in a crash. “Seat belt syndrome” is how doctors describe the pattern of injuries that can occur when children are too small for the seat belt. In a crash, children could sustain spinal cord injuries, injuries to internal organs, and severe head injuries.  

Car seats and booster seats are safest when they are installed in the back seat of the car. Passenger side air bags can be dangerous to children who are travelling in the front seat of a car. If your child must travel in the front seat, make sure to turn off the passenger air bag and position the seat as far back as possible. Booster seats should not be used in a vehicle seat that has a lap belt only. Booster seats need a lap and a shoulder belt. Harness straps should not be used for booster seats.  

Seat belts 

Seven provinces in Canada have a booster seat law. Children must ride in a booster seat in: 

New Brunswick until they are:

  • at least 4 feet, 9 inches (145 cm) tall, or
  • at least 79 pounds (36 kg), or
  • at least 9 years old  

Prince Edward Island until they are:

  • at least 4 feet, 9 inches (145 cm) tall, or
  • at least 10 years old  

Newfoundland and Labrador until they are: 

  • at least 4 feet, 9 inches (145 cm) tall, or
  • at least 80 pounds (36 kg), or
  • at least 9 years old  

British Columbia until they are:

  • at least 4 feet, 9 inches (145 cm) tall, or
  • at least 9 years old  

Nova Scotia until they are: 

  • at least 4 feet, 9 inches (145 cm) tall, or
  • at least 9 years old  

Ontario until they are: 

  • at least 4 feet, 9 inches (145 cm) tall, or
  • at least 80 pounds (36 kg), or
  • at least 8 years old  

Quebec until they have: 

  • seated height of at least 25 inches (63 cm)  

Around age 9, a car's seat belt should fit a child correctly. Seat belts are made to fit people who are at least 145 cm (4 feet, 9 inches) tall. When a seat belt is worn correctly, the lap belt spreads the force of a crash over the bones in the hips and the shoulder belt spreads the force across the chest. Do not use seat belt adjustors. Seat belt adjustors clip onto the seat belt to keep a seat belt off a child’s face and neck. These have not been tested for safety and can put children at more risk for injury. To find out if your child is ready for a seat belt, check that the seat belt fits. Have your child sit with her back right against the car's seat back.  

  1. The shoulder belt should go over the shoulder and across the middle of your child's chest.
  2. The lap belt should fit low over the hip bones, under your child's belly.
  3. Your child's knees should bend comfortably over the edge of the car's seat.  

Hazel Pleasants, RN, MN

Andrew James, MBChB, FRACP, FRCPC