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Car seats can help minimize the impact of an accident to your child. Learn more about selecting, installing and using your car seat properly.

About car seats

Infants and children require car seats and booster seats to help spread the forces of a crash across the strongest parts of their bodies.

For a child to get the best protection from the car seat:

  • It must be the right seat for the age, height and weight of the child
  • It must be properly attached to the vehicle
  • The child must be properly harnessed into the car seat

There are four stages of child passenger safety. The right stage for yourchild depends on their age, weight, and height.

Did you know:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury-related death in children up to age 15.
  • A correctly used car seat can reduce the risk of death and serious injury up to 75%.
  • In Halton Region, an average of 75% of drivers have been found to be using their child seats incorrectly.

Ontario car seat law

Ontario law for child passenger safety is enforced under the Highway Traffic Act, regulation 613 (external link) (seatbelt assemblies).

The following summarizes the minimum legal requirements for anyone travelling with young children in their vehicles in Ontario.

Definitions

Infant

Infant

  • Range: birth until 9 kg (20 lbs)
  • Stage: Rear-facing
  • Legal requirements (in Ontario): Must be in a rear-facing car seat harnessed and installed in the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Toddler

Toddler

  • Range: 9 kg (20 lbs) until 18 kg (40 lbs)
  • Stage: Forward-facing
  • Legal requirements (in Ontario): Must be in an appropriate car seat (rear or forward-facing) harnessed and installed in the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s instructions. [forward-facing car seats must have a top tether strap secured in addition to the seat belt or universal anchorage system]

Preschooler

Preschooler

  • Range: 18 kg (40 lbs) until 8 years old, 145 cm (4ft. 9 inches), or 36 kg (80 lbs)
  • Stage: Booster seats
  • Legal requirements (in Ontario): Must ride in an appropriate forward facing car seat or booster seat harnessed and installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Car seats and booster seats must be purchased in Canada and show the National Safety Mark for use in Canada.

It is illegal to use a car seat or booster seat purchased from another country (e.g., the U.S.) unless you are a visitor.

What you need to know about car seat safety

There is a lot to consider before you buy a car seat. Having a clear understanding of which child seat is most suitable for your child will help to keep them best protected.

Before you buy

Choosing the right seat for your child can be confusing. There are a lot of options to choose from.

Before you buy:

  • Check your child’s height and weight.
  • Check the expiry date or ‘useful’ life date on the seat to make sure it has not been on the shelf at the store for a long period of time.
  • Choose a seat with a higher height and weight limit, so it can be used longer.
  • Only Canadian car seats and boosters can be used. Check for the National Safety Mark.

Keep in mind:

  • The law is used as the minimum standard. Try to exceed these standards by keeping your child in each stage as long as possible.
  • No one brand of car seat is the safest.
  • Price is not an indication of safety.
  • The best seat fits your child and your vehicle and is used correctly.

Second hand car seats

Considering a second hand car seat for you child?

It is advised not to buy a used car seat for your child. There are many unknown factors that can impact your child's safety, such as car seat expiry date or whether the seat has previously been involved in a collision.

If you are planning to borrow a car seat from a close friend or family member, consider the following:

  • The age of the car seat (ensure it’s not expired)
  • Have you checked for a recall on the car seat?
  • Do you know if the car seat has been in a crash?
  • Does it have all of its parts?
  • Is there an instruction manual?
  • Is it the right seat for your child’s weight and height?
  • Is it the right seat for your child’s stage?
  • Does the car seat fit well in your vehicle?

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety, call 311.

There are 4 stages of child passenger safety.

The right stage for your child depends on their age, weight, and height.

Adapted from Transport Canada (external link)

Stage One: Rear-facing

Infants and toddlers benefit greatly from travelling facing the back of a vehicle.

This position allows the car seat to absorb most of the force from a collision instead of the fragile head and neck of a baby.

Do not be in a rush to move your child into a forward-facing car seat!

Tips for attaching the car seat in your vehicle:

  • Always read and follow both your car seat manual AND your vehicle manual.
  • Most infant-only seats have a detachable base, which is attached to the vehicle. The car seat snaps into the base.
  • Your car seat manual will explain where and how to attach your car seat (or infant base) using either the seat belt or the universal anchorage system (UAS) [use one or the other, not both].
  • Check your vehicle manual to locate the UAS in your vehicle.
  • Your car seat manual will tell you at what angle to install your rear-facing seat. Many car seats have built in level indicators to help get the right angle.
  • You may need to adjust the infant-only base to get the correct angle depending on the slope of your vehicle’s seats.
  • When tightening the seat belt or UAS, push down on the car seat while you pull the strap tight. There should be less than 1 inch of movement in any direction where the belt is attached.
  • If using an infant-only car seat, check the car seat manual to see if the carry handle should be up or down while driving.
  • Never attach a rear-facing car seat in the front seat in front of an active air bag.

Tips for harnessing your baby in their rear-facing seat:

  • Always read and follow your car seat manual.
  • Your child’s back and bottom should be flat against the car seat back.
  • Extra padding should never be placed behind your child.
  • Harness straps should come out of the back of the car seat at or slightly below the shoulders.
  • Harness straps must lay flat, no twists or folds.
  • The harness should fit tightly. Try the ‘pinch test’ – you should not be able to pinch a fold in the harness strap.
  • The chest clip must be placed at the armpit level to prevent the harness straps from sliding off the shoulders.

How long should my child stay rear-facing?

Don’t rush! Even if your child is able to walk independently and the law says you can use a forward-facing seat, the rear-facing position is still safer.

Your car seat manual will confirm the maximum weight and height of a child for that seat in the rear-facing position. As long as your child is below the weight and height limits of your current car seat, you should use that seat for as long as possible.

It is okay if your child’s legs touch the back of your vehicle seat.

If your child grows out of your current rear-facing car seat, there may be another style or brand that will still fit your child. Some rear-facing car seats can be used for children up to 23 kg (50 lbs).

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety, call 311.

Stage Two: Forward-facing

Your child should stay rear-facing as long as possible. Once they are older, they can move to a forward-facing car seat.

This stage provides protection through a 5-point harness system that is placed over the strong, bony parts of a child’s body.

A top tether strap is used along with the seat belt or universal anchorage system (UAS) to prevent the head from moving too far forward in a crash.

Do not be in a rush to move your child into a booster seat!

Tips for attaching the car seat in your vehicle:

  • Always read and follow both your car seat manual AND your vehicle manual.
  • Your vehicle manual will explain where and how to attach your car seat using either the seat belt or the universal anchorage system (UAS) [use one or the other, not both]
  • Check both your car seat and vehicle manuals for UAS weight limits.
  • When tightening the seat belt or UAS, push down on the car seat while you pull the strap tight. There should be less than 2.5 cm (1 in) of movement in any direction where the belt is attached.
  • All forward-facing car seats must have a top tether strap attached to an anchor bolt in your vehicle (in addition to the seat belt or UAS). Check your vehicle manual to locate the tether anchor bolts in your vehicle. The tether strap must be tight to prevent the car seat from tipping forward in a crash.
  • Generally, forward-facing car seats should be in the upright position. Check your car seat manual to see if there are any other acceptable recline positions
  • Never attach a forward-facing car seat in the front seat in front of an active air bag

Tips for harnessing your child in their forward-facing seat:

  • Always read and follow your car seat manual.
  • Harness straps should come out of the back of the car seat at or slightly above the shoulders.
  • Do not place extra padding behind the child
  • Harness straps must lay flat, no twists or folds.
  • The harness should fit tightly. Try the ‘pinch test’ – you should not be able to pinch a fold in the harness strap
  • The chest clip must be placed at the armpit level to prevent the harness straps from sliding off the shoulders.

When is my child ready for a booster seat?

Don’t rush! Even if your child weighs over 18 kg (40 lbs) and the law says you can use a booster seat, your child is safer in the forward-facing seat! As long as your child is still below the weight and height limits of your current car seat, you should use that seat for as long as possible.

Keep your child in the forward-facing seat until he or she grows out of it. Your car seat manual will tell you the maximum weight and height of a child for that seat in the forward-facing position. If your child grows out of your current forward-facing car seat, there may be another type/brand of forward-facing car seat that may still fit. Some forward-facing car seats can be used for children up to 30 kg (65 lbs)

Resources

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety, call 311.

Stage Three: Booster

It is safer for your child to stay forward-facing as long as possible. Children must be at least 18 kg (40 lbs) to move to a booster seat.

Seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. Booster seats raise your child up so that the seat belt fits over the correct parts of the body.

An incorrectly placed lap or shoulder belt can cause serious internal and neck injuries to a child. The ‘arm rest’ of the booster acts as hipbones to hold the lap belt in place. Do not be in a rush to move your child into a seat belt alone!

Tips for properly buckling your child into their booster seat:

  • All booster seats need a lap and shoulder seat belt.
  • Your vehicle manual will tell you where you can use a booster seat in your vehicle.
  • Your booster seat manual will tell you how to fit both the lap and shoulder parts of the seat belt over your child and the booster seat properly.
  • Never attach a booster seat in the front seat in front of an active air bag.
  • Buckle the booster seat even when your child isn't in it so that it doesn't injure anyone in the vehicle during a sudden stop or crash.

How long should I use the booster seat?

Don’t rush! Even if your child is 8 years old and the law says you can use a seat belt alone, your child is still safer in a booster seat.

Keep your child in the booster seat until he or she grows out of it.

Your booster seat manual will tell you the maximum weight and height of a child for that seat.

If your child grows out of your current booster seat, there may be another style or brand of booster seat that may still fit. Some booster seats can be used for children up to 54 kg (120 lbs).

A booster seat should be used until:

  • Your child has a sitting height of at least 74 cm (29 inches)
  • Your child is at least 145 cm (4 feet, 9 inches) tall
  • Your child is 9 or 10 years of age
  • The lap belt rests across their upper thighs
  • The shoulder belt is centred across the chest
  • Your child can sit all the way back against the vehicle seat with their knees bent over the edge of the seat (and they can stay seated like this for the whole trip)

Resources

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety, call 311

Stage Four: Seat Belts

Your child should use a booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits correctly.

Seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. If the seat belt is worn incorrectly, your child could suffer serious internal or brain injuries in a crash. A lap and shoulder belt offers better protection than a lap belt alone.

Tips for using a seat belt properly:

  • Transport Canada recommends that all children 12 years and under sit in the back seat, especially when there is a front air bag
  • The lap belt should fit over the upper thighs and the shoulder belt should be in the centre of the child’s shoulders and chest
  • The seat belt should fit snugly
  • It's important to set a good example for your child - wear your seat belt every time you're in the car!
  • Any after market seat belt positioning devices are not recommended. These devices can seriously injure a child. If the seat belt does not seem to fit your child properly, they likely should be in a booster seat.

Resources

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety, call 311.

Disposing of a used seat

If you have an expired, damaged, or unsafe car seat that you want to get rid of, you have two options:

  • you can recycle your car seat at Green Propeller Recycling (external link)
  • take it apart and put it at the curb for garbage pick up. Make sure the straps are cut, the padding is removed and that you dispose of these items separately. An intact car seat that has been put at the curb for garbage, may be picked up by someone that does not know it is unsafe to use.

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety, call 311.

Recalls and public notices

Register your new car seat with the manufacturer.

This can be done either online or by sending in the registration card that comes with your seat.

Car seat and booster seat manufacturers are required to notify all registered consumers of any defects, recalls, public notices or other potential problems with the seat they have purchased.

Public notices and recalls can also be found on Transport Canada’s website (external link).

Expiry and useful life dates

All children’s car seats and booster seats sold in Canada have an expiry or useful life date (external link) on them.

If you own a car seat or booster seat made before January 1, 2012, under Health Canada’s Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (external link), it may not meet the latest requirements set out by Health Canada and Transport Canada. In this case, you may not be able to advertise, sell, or give it away.

Additional Resources

There are several resources to help ensure that you are harnessing your child and installing your car seat correctly.

Video clips: Child seat installation and use.

Follow both your car seat AND vehicle manuals to install the seat and harness your child properly. For additional tips, watch this video series:

View car seat videos in other languages (external link).

Halton car seat clinics and education

To have your car seat inspected for free, call 311 or visit HPCSS (external link) to see what is available in your community.

To hire a private company to install your car seat for you, look online. (ensure the company you use provides certified car seat technicians).

If you are a professional in the community and you are looking for a presentation or display on car seat safety for an event, call 311 or email haltonparents@halton.ca

Halton Partners for Car Seat Safety (HPCSS)

HPCSS (external link) is a community group of professionals and volunteers who aim to increase car seat safety for children through awareness, education and enforcement.

Partners include:

  • Halton Region Health Department
  • Halton Regional Police Services
  • Halton Regional Paramedic Services
  • Milton Fire Department
  • Halton Hills Fire Department
  • Burlington Fire Department
  • The Co-operators
  • Ontario Ministry of Transportation
  • Ontario Provincial Police
  • Community volunteers

Safety Drives Us

Safety Drives Us (external link) was formed to enhance the safety of all road users. Their mission is to remove barriers and enhance the safety of all Ontarians.

Partners include:

  • Brampton Multicultural Council
  • Halton Multicultural Council
  • Hamilton Public Health Services
  • Ontario Ministry of Transportation
  • Ontario Provincial Police
  • Region of Peel
  • Road Today
  • Peel Regional Police
  • Halton Regional Police

The Safety Drives Us website includes videos and training materials in several languages.

Car seat safety: FAQs

If you cannot find the answer to your question below, please reach out to a public health nurse by dialing 311.

Buying a Car Seat

Is it possible to buy a safe, affordable car seat on a budget?

Yes. Price is not an indication of safety. All car seats sold in Canada have to pass the same safety tests in order to be approved. Prices may vary based on options like fabrics or accessories.

Don’t wait until the last minute to get your car seat. Give yourself time to shop around and look for sales.

How can I tell which car seat is compatible with my vehicle?

If your car seat is relatively easy to install and fits well in your vehicle when you install it (according to the manufacturer’s instructions), then that means it is compatible.

If you can’t get the seat tight enough or to the correct angle (according to the manual) or if it is very hard to achieve these things, it might be best to try a different model.

Why is it illegal to use a car seat purchased in another country in Canada?

Countries have different rules and methods of testing car seats.

Only car seats purchased in Canada can be used. They need to have passed all the tests and requirements set out by Transport Canada and have the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) sticker.

Is it safe to use a car seat that I bought at a garage sale?

If you don’t know the history of the car seat (for example, it's expiry date or if it has ever been in a car crash), it is best not to use it.

Also, car seats or booster seats should not be used if they do not meet current Canadian safety standards. Please note the Canadian safety standards (external link) changed January 1, 2012.

Often times, car seats sold online or at garage sales may not have the instruction manual with them.

Is it safe to re-use an old car seat that I used for my older child?

There are a few things to consider when re-using a car seat that you used for your older child. Before reusing an old car seat ask yourself:

How can I tell if my car seat has been recalled?

If you sent in the registration card that came with your car seat, the manufacturer will notify you of any recalls.

If you haven’t registered your car seat, this can usually be done online or by contacting the manufacturer. Otherwise, you can check Transport Canada’s website regularly for recalls and warnings (external link).

Car Seat Installation and Positioning

How can I make sure my car seat is installed correctly?

ALWAYS follow both your car seat and vehicle instruction manuals. Watch these videos to see how to correctly install each stage of car seat (external link).

Call 311 to speak to a public health nurse about car seat safety.

Can I use the Universal Anchorage System (UAS) to attach my car seat in the centre seat?

Check your vehicle’s owner manual to see if the UAS can be used in the centre seating position.

In many vehicles, you must either use the seat belt to attach the car seat in the middle spot or move it to one of the sides of the vehicle to use the UAS.

I've heard it is safer to use both the UAS AND the seatbelt when installing my car seat. Is this true?

No. The seat belt OR the UAS should be used to attach your car seat to your vehicle, not both.

I’m expecting my second child. Where should I position the two car seats in my car?

Positioning of two car seats (or more) will depend on the make and stage of your car seats, and the make of your vehicle. Follow your instruction manuals.

My car seat comes with a tether for the rear-facing and forward-facing positions. Can I use the tether rear-facing?

It is not common practice to tether rear-facing car seats in Canada.

It may be difficult to find an approved spot to attach the rear-facing tether in your vehicle. If you do wish to tether your rear-facing seat:

  • follow your car seat manual carefully.
  • contact the car seat manufacturer or your vehicle manufacturer with questions.

Proper Use of Car Seats

Is it okay if a rear-facing seat touches the seat in front?

Ideally, there should be some space between the car seat and the front vehicle seat. Check your car seat manual to see what is recommended for your particular car seat.

I've heard that car seat bags and snowsuits are not recommended for use in the car seat. How can I keep my baby warm in the winter?

Rather than using a car seat bag or snowsuit, it's safer to use a blanket over your baby once he or she is harnessed in the car seat.

Too much padding reduces the safety of the seat and can quickly overheat a baby.

For infant-only seats, there are also car seat covers available. These go over the top of the car seat and do not interfere with the harness straps.

Should I be concerned if my baby’s feet touch the back of the vehicle seat?

Your child can bend his or her legs easily and will be comfortable in a rear-facing position. Injuries to the legs are rare for children rear-facing.

Follow your car seat manual’s instructions about when your child is too big for the car seat.

My baby is 10 months old and 10 kg (22 lbs). She is too big for her infant-only rear-facing car seat. What seat should I use next?

In this case, it would be best to move her to an infant-child seat that is both rear-facing and forward-facing.

Use it in the rear-facing position until she reaches the maximum weight allowed by the manufacturer, and then switch to the forward-facing position. Look for an infant-child seat with a high weight limit so that you can keep her rear-facing longer.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

My son is 4 years old. He is only 17 kg (37 lbs), but he's too tall for his current car seat. Can I put him in a booster seat?

No! Don’t rush into the booster seat stage.

A child needs to be at least 18 kg (40 lbs) by law (preferably heavier) to be able to use a booster seat.

If your child has reached the maximum height for your current car seat, buy a combination child-booster seat. They often accommodate taller children when used as a forward-facing car seat. Once your child reaches the maximum weight limit in the forward-facing position, the child-booster seat can be adjusted to be used as a high back booster seat.

My son is 8 and the law says I can move him out of his booster seat. How can I be sure he is ready to use only a seat belt?

Don’t rush! It is better to use your child’s size, rather than age, to determine if he is ready for a seat belt alone. It is recommended that a child be at least 36 kg (80 lbs), 145 cm (4 ft 9 in) tall and have a sitting height of at least 74 cm (29 in) before they move out of a booster seat.

Can I use a booster seat with just a lap belt?

No. Booster seats must be used with a lap and shoulder belt combination.

Do I need to use a booster seat to drive my daughter’s 6 year old friend?

Yes. In Ontario, it is the driver’s legal responsibility to make sure that all passengers under 16 years of age wear a seat belt or are in the correct car seat or booster seat.

By law, your daughter’s 6 year old friend must be buckled up in a child restraint that suits her weight, height and age.

When can my child sit in the front seat?

According to Transport Canada (external link), children 12 years of age and under should always be in the back seat.

Most cars have front seat air bags. These can hurt small children if the bags inflate during a crash or sudden stop. The safest place for children is always in the back seat.

General Safety

What are the most common mistakes made when using car seats?

The most common mistakes that are seen are:

  • the child is in the wrong type of seat for their size
  • the harness straps are too loose
  • the chest clip is too low on the child
  • forward-facing seats are not tethered
  • the car seat is not installed tight enough in the vehicle

Can I use my infant car seat as a portable crib inside my home?

Transport Canada advises against using infant car seats as cribs or temporary cribs (external link).

They do not meet the safety requirements for a crib. Babies have been accidentally strangled by the harness straps when they have been left unattended in their infant car seat while outside of a vehicle.

Do I need to replace a seat that has been in a crash even though my child wasn’t in it?

A car seat that has been in a crash, even if the child wasn’t in the seat at the time, needs to be replaced.

Even if it was a small fender bender or there’s no visible damage to the seat, it’s recommended that you replace it to ensure your child’s safety. It’s possible that there could be some internal damage to the seat that would make it unable to withstand the force or trauma of another crash.

Include the replacement cost of a child’s car seat in your insurance claim. Most insurance companies will cover the cost to replace the damaged car seat.

Should I bring my car seat on an airplane?

Transport Canada recommends that young children ride in a car seat when flying (external link), however it’s best to call the airline and ask about their specific regulations.

It is important to note:

  • Booster seats can't be used on planes because they require a lap and shoulder belt. Airplane seats do not have shoulder belts.
  • Airplane seats do not have tether anchors. The tether strap of your car seat must be stored according to the car seat manual so that it does not hit anyone on the airplane during turbulence.
  • Some airlines allow children under the age of two to ride for free on the plane. In these cases, the child must ride on the parent’s lap.

HaltonParents blog about car seats!

Important notice

The information provided on this website is intended to help with the selection and safe use of car seats and booster seats. Under no circumstances should this information be used to replace the car seat instruction booklet or the vehicle owner's manual. Car seats and booster seats are all different and these details are included in the manual provided with them. All provinces have different laws.

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