What You Need to Know About Car Safety as Your Child Grows

Guest Contributor August 01, 2019

You would never get into a car and go for a cruise without buckling up first, right? Wearing a seatbelt in the car has become so ingrained in our consciousness that putting it on is just part of the process of getting into a car.

Similarly, we all know that young children, toddlers, and babies all require extra protection when riding in cars. However, the guidelines for keeping the little ones safe aren’t as simple as merely buckling a belt.

The Risks of Getting it Wrong.

While it can be confusing to know which kind of car seat your child needs and at what age they are ready to move on to the next size, the risks of getting it wrong can be dire.

According to Transport Canada, the leading cause of death of children between the ages of 0-9 is traffic accidents¹. Their data shows that 10,000 children under the age of 12 are injured in traffic accidents every year, and that this is the direct result of over 90% of car seats being installed improperly¹.

Overall, children who are only wearing seat belts rather than car safety seats are 3.5 times more likely to suffer significant injury, and four times more likely to suffer from a head injury¹. Essentially, using a child seat or booster correctly can reduce the chances of a child being killed or injured in a car accident by 75%.

Meeting the Requirements.

Babies.

So, which car seat is right for your child? Babies need extra special protection in a car. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act requires that children use a rear-facing car seat until they weigh at least 9 kg (or 20 lb.).

Toddlers.

When your child outgrows the maximum weight or height limits for their infant rear-facing car seat, they can move up to a larger convertible infant/child car seat. The Traffic Act allows children weighing from 9 kg to 18 kg (20 to 40 lb.) to use a forward-facing child car seat or a rear-facing car seat, as long as they are the correct size for the car seat manufacturer’s recommended usage.

Small Children.

Many parents don’t realize that even once their child has outgrown their toddler car seat, a seat belt alone still doesn’t provide enough protection in the case of an accident. The law requires that kids who weigh from 18 kg to 36 kg (40 to 80 lb.), who are less than 145 cm (4 ft. 9 in.) tall and who are under the age of 8 use a booster seat.

Booster seats lift children up so that adult seat belts provide better protection. Using a booster seat can protect your child from serious injury 3.5 times better than a seat belt alone.

Children can also continue to use their forward-facing car seat until they outgrow the manufacturer’s recommended size and weight requirements.

Car Safety Basics.

You don’t have to bubble wrap your child in order to ensure they stay safe in the car. You just need to take the proper precautions and use the appropriate safety seat to make sure that every road trip is safe.

For example, it isn’t recommended that children ride in the front seat of cars. In the event of a collision, they are at a much higher risk of being seriously injured. The safest seat for children is in the middle of the back seat.

Seat belts provide great protection for adults and older children. Even if they have turned eight years old, your child may still benefit from using a booster seat.

Your child is ready for a standard seat belt alone:

  • when they can sit all the way against the back of the seat with their legs bent comfortably over the edge and maintain this position for the entire trip,
  • when they can have the shoulder belt flat across their shoulder and chest, and
  • when the lap belt crosses over their hips, not their stomach.

If your child has outgrown the legal requirements for a safety seat but doesn’t meet these seatbelt requirements, you should continue to use a booster seat.

Also, with any car seat or booster seat, make sure to read the requirements and instructions carefully and make sure that the seat is installed correctly in your car. An improperly secured car seat won’t provide the full level of protection that your child needs.

If you are having trouble installing a child car seat and need more information, please contact your local public health unit to make sure you get it right.

Looking for more information? Read our Tips for the Proper Installation of Child Car Seats.

¹How to choose a car seatOntario Ministry of Transportation.