How to Choose the Best Car Seat for Your Child

An illustration of a child seated in a car seat

This fall, many parents have brought their little ones back to school or daycare. Parents undoubtedly take the time to carefully consider where their child will attend and make every effort to ensure that they are in a safe learning environment. However, parents should also turn their minds to the safety of their child’s commute and take the same care in selecting a car seat. This article will help the busy parent make the right choice and use it properly.

Thank you to Articling Student Kevin Kwok for the assistance with the research and writing of this blog entry.

 

Motor vehicle collisions are a major cause of injury to children, resulting in 2,811 emergency room visits in 2015. In Ontario, drivers are responsible and liable under law for ensuring that all passengers under 8 years old are secured using appropriate restraint systems.

Legal Requirements for Child Car Seats

National Safety Mark label

When you buy a child car seat for use in Canada, look for the National Safety Mark label attached to the seat. This label indicates that the seat complies with Canadian regulations and standards and is legal for use in Canada.

In Ontario, you must purchase and use a child car seat that bears the National Safety Mark from Transport Canada and the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (CMVSS). Only seats that meet these standards are legal for use in Canada. Failure to comply may result in a fine of up to $1000 under the Highway Traffic Act.

Also, remember that all car seats have expiry dates and use outside their certified life span is not only unsafe, but exposes the driver to further penalties.

Selecting a Car Seat

Child car seats are available at many retailers, in a wide variety of brands and with multiple features. When in the market for a car seat, price is not always a good reflection of quality. Avoid paying a premium solely for a brand-name. Instead, focus on whether the car seat includes important safety features. These features may include an anti-rebound bar at the foot of the seat that limits the amount of movement in a crash, better material used for the straps or in construction of the seat, or increased padding for comfort and safety. Another important feature to consider is the fastening mechanism. Some car seats are compatible with the UAS system (a universal securing system without the use of seatbelts) which can reduce the chance of improper installation and is much more convenient if you need to frequently remove and install the child seat base. While paying more for these features may make it easier for the car seat to be used correctly, mid-price models may function just as well, if not better, than expensive models, depending on a number of other factors.

Regardless of the brand you choose, rest assured that all child car seats have been tested to meet the minimum requirements and deemed safe to sell in Canada.

Installation and Positioning

Proper installation and positioning depends on the type of seat that is being used. The type of seat you can use will depend on the height and weight of your child, as well as the manufacturer’s car seat guide. Ensure that you are using the right type for your child, as these requirements differ by province and territories.

Transport Canada provides comprehensive information on the proper installation for each type of seat.

Rear-facing Seat

In Ontario, rear-facing seats may be used with children under 8 years old weighing less than 9 kg (20 lbs). The seat should be positioned in the back seat of the car, where your child will be furthest away possible from the front seat air bags if they inflate during a crash. You may choose to utilize the UAS, seat belt only (if your car has a built-in locking feature), or a seat belt and locking clip system (if there is no locking feature). Experiment and find which option is the best to secure your child car seat in the car.

It is also important to ensure that the car seat is at the angle indicated by your car seat and/or the car seat guide, typically 30-45 degrees – but most car seats will have a built-in indicator. When buckling your child up into the car seat, you should ensure that there is enough head space between the top of the child’s head and the top of the car seat. The harness straps should be snugly at or just below the child’s shoulders. The chest clip should be at your child’s armpit level and closed properly and the harness straps should be snug on your child’s hips.

Forward-facing Seat

In Ontario, children under 8 years old weighing at least 9 kg (20 lbs) but less than 18 kg (40 lbs) must be restrained in a forward-facing seat. They should be positioned, secured, and buckled similarly to rear-facing seats.

The child car seat must also be tethered correctly to the car. The tether strap must be routed according to the vehicle manufacturer’s instructions. The belts must not be twisted or obstructed.

Booster seat

In Ontario, children under 8 years old weighing at least 18 kg (40 lbs) but less than 36 kg (80 lbs) must be restrained by a booster seat.

Tips for Use and Common Mistakes

  • Many child car seats are not fastened correctly and are too loose. They should not move more than 2.5 cm (1 inch) in any direction.
  • Note your child car seat expiry date and replace prior to that date.
  • Do not purchase used car seats as you cannot be certain of their history of use.
  • Always replace and dispose of car seats involved in a collision. Even if it was empty at the time, it may have been damaged.

Register your child car seat!

In September, Evenflo, a popular car seat manufacturer, issued a recall of 30,000 car seats over major safety concerns. This is not uncommon. Recalls may occur at any time after the car seat was released for various reasons such as changing safety standards or reported defects.

By registering, you can be sure that the manufacturer will contact to you in the event of a recall. This is a simple, proactive step you can take to ensure ongoing safety of the product and protection of your child. Alternatively, the only notice you may receive is through the media and a child’s safety is not something any of us want to leave to chance!

Michael Giordano
Written by

Michael Giordano is a founding partner of Avanessy Giordano LLP. Prior to establishing his own practice, he was a partner of a prominent Mississauga personal injury firm.

He completed his law degree at the University of Ottawa. Prior to law school, Michael studied English and Law & Society at York University.

Michael is an active member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association and is the current Vice-Chair of the New Lawyers Division. He is a regular contributor to the OTLA blog and has also written for The Litigator.