Car Seat Safety Information that Every Parent should Know

Car collisions are the leading cause of death of children in Canada. 1 Some of these tragic outcomes can be prevented or lessened with the correct use of car seats and booster seats, which are carefully engineered to ensure the safety of the most precious little ones in our lives.

It can be challenging to figure out how to correctly purchase, install, and use car seats and booster seats, and to know when they can no longer be used. Car seats and booster seats are not intuitive and, like many parenting skills, take some education and practice to master.

Here are some (of many) important things parents and childcare providers should know about car seat and booster seat safety:

Only use Car Seats in the Car

Only use car seats in the car, not at home or at daycare and not for sleeping. In the car, a car seat is absolutely the safest place to be, but once your little one leaves the vehicle, that changes. The Canadian Paediatric Society has found that the most dangerous time for a baby to be in a car seat is when they are not actually in a car. 2

Car seats are not designed to be a safe sleep surface. When babies sleep in car seats outside of the vehicle they are at risk for something called positional asphyxia. This is where the position of the child’s body causes his or her airway to become blocked. 3

Follow the Weight Recommendations

Some car seats are approved for babies who weigh as little as 4 or 5 pounds, and maximum weights can vary from around 20 pounds to in excess of 60 pounds. This is something to think about when shopping for a car seat. 4

Avoid Bulky Clothing

Bulky clothing can compress in a car crash, leaving the straps too loose to keep your little one safely in their seat. Car seat experts have suggested dressing kids in layers and removing bulky coats, snowsuits, and sweaters before strapping them in. After your child is secured in the car seat, you can tuck a blanket or sweater in (over the harness) to keep them warm. 5

Do not use Third Party Accessories

If it did not come with your car seat, do not put it on your car seat, unless you have the go-ahead from a medical professional. Toys, head cushions, soft strap covers, and other accessories can void car seat warranties and put your child in danger. 6

Cease Use following an Accident

If your vehicle is involved in a collision of any kind, consult guidance from the manufacturer as to whether your booster seat or car seat should be replaced. If involved in a collision, they may no longer be safe to use. For this same reason, it is important not to purchase car seats or booster seats second hand as you do not know their history. 7

Register for Recalls

Many manufacturers of children’s products have a system for informing purchasers of recalls. Before using your car seat or booster seat, ensure that you are registered to receive any recall notifications.

Always Use as Directed and Get Help if you have Questions

Before installing a new car seat, carefully read through both the car seat manual and the vehicle manual. When in doubt, do not hesitate to ask for help with car seat or booster seat installation. It is neither easy nor intuitive. Many well-meaning parents misuse car seats and booster seats.
Fortunately, in addition to reaching out the manufacturer, there are many community resources available to parents and childcare providers, including:

Canadian Paediatric Society
St. John’s Ambulance Car Seat Program
Parachute Canada
Canada Safety Council
Transport Canada

When parents use car seats and booster seats correctly, they are an amazing piece of equipment and help to keep our children as safe as possible.

  1. According to Transport Canada, each year, more than 2000 Canadian children between the ages of one and four are injured or killed in car collisions.
  2. Canadian Paediatric Society, https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/car_seat_safety
  3. Parachute Canada: http://www.parachutecanada.org/injury-topics/item/2697#sleeping
  4. It is important to note that a child’s weight may not only dictate the type of car seat that may be appropriate, but may also influence whether it should be installed in a rear facing or front facing position. In addition, a child’s weight may also determine when it is appropriate to switch from a car seat to a booster seat. For more information, consult your child’s family physician or visit the following resource published by the Canadian Paediatric Society: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/car_seat_safety
  5. Parachute Canada: http://www.parachutecanada.org/injury-topics/item/2697#clothing
  6. Parachute Canada: http://www.parachutecanada.org/injury-topics/item/2697#addons
  7. https://www.tc.gc.ca/en/services/road/child-car-seat-safety.html
Anna Stoll
Written by

Anna is an associate lawyer on the personal injury team of Siskinds LLP. She has had the privilege of working closely with Douglas Bryce, a partner at the firm.

Anna holds a B.A. from the University of British Columbia and a J.D. from the University of New Brunswick. She was called to the bar in 2016 and is a member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association.