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Top 10 car seat safety tips

Installing a car seat is a parenting rite of passage that can seem a little challenging at first. But you can do it! And then you can sleep easy (or at least you could if your baby was sleeping), knowing your little one is well protected in the car. Here’s what you need to use your car seat safely.

Car seat stages

Your child will start in a rear-facing car seat and graduate to a forward-facing car seat. Alternatively, you can buy a car seat that does both, so you can install it facing the rear of the car and then turn it to face forward when your child is ready.

Stage 1/Rear-facing

Every car seat will have its own specifications as to the minimum and maximum weight it can accommodate. It’s recommended your child stays rear-facing for as long as possible. Transport Canada regulations stipulate that babies must stay rear-facing until they are at least 10 kg (22 lbs.) and walking on their own. Transport Canada also requires that a child be at least 1 year of age to be forward facing. Many car seats will accommodate higher weights in the rear-facing position.

Stages 2/Forward-facing

When your child outgrows its rear-facing seat, it’s time to move forward. Only switch to forward-facing seats when your child exceeds the weight/height limits of their rear-facing seat. Forward-facing seats have harness straps that are narrower than a vehicle seat beat.

Stages 3/Booster seats

Booster regulations vary by province, but in general your child should not move out of a booster seat until they’re tall enough that the seat/lap belt fits them properly and they can sit against the back of the seat with their legs bending comfortably over the edge. Older children must stay in a car seat until they are at least 20 kg (40 lbs.), regardless of age.

Provincial regulations

Depending on where you live, provincial regulations may stipulate higher weight requirements for each stage. Check your province’s website for specific car seat safety rules.

Don’t rush graduation

Resist the urge to move your baby to the next stage as soon as possible. Kids are safer staying in their current seat until they reach the maximum weight and height stipulated by the manufacturer. A rear-facing position affords better protection of a toddler’s fragile neck and spine. Even if your baby grows out of their infant seat, you can move them to a convertible seat and keep them rear-facing.

Use a new Canadian seat

Getting hand-me-downs is part of becoming a first-time parent. But not for car seats. You must buy a new car seat. Never acquire a second-hand seat: if they’ve ever been in a crash or even dropped too hard, they are not safe. And buy in Canada—U.S. standards are different and, in fact, U.S. car seats are illegal for use in Canada.

Register with the manufacturer

You know that product registration card you usually throw out? Better to mail this one in, so you’re kept informed of any recalls and/or safety notifications. Police spot checks consistently report that most car seats are not installed correctly and therefore not protecting children the way they should. So follow the instructions for installing the seat, and installing your baby, to the letter. To be extra-sure, see if there’s a local car seat clinic in your area where you can get a free check.

Avoid common errors

Once you have your car seat installed, check that you’ve got these common points of confusion right:

  • The car seat is in the back seat
  • Your rear-facing seat is reclined at a 45-degree angle (or whatever’s specified in the instructions)
  • The base of the seat does not move more than 2cm in any direction
  • Your forward-facing seat is firmly anchored at the top with a tether
  • Your child is properly buckled in
  • The chest clip is at your child’s armpit
  • The straps lie flat and are snug
  • You can fit only one finger between the strap and your baby’s collarbone
  • The shoulder straps come through at or slightly below the baby’s shoulders for a rear-facing seat
  • The shoulder straps are level with, or just above, the child’s shoulders for a forward-facing seat

Wardrobe matters

Your car seat instructions may not mention that bulky clothing like snowsuits can impede a proper fit and allow the straps to slide off in a crash. Dress your baby in close-fitting clothes, and use a blanket over the straps to keep him warm.

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