Everything you need to know about child car seats

Our children’s safety is our top priority, especially when we hit the road! It starts with car seats adapted to their height and weight. 

Here are some tips on how to choose the right car seat for your child and get it properly installed. 

What the law prohibits

  • Using a car seat that doesn’t fit your child’s height and weight
  • Removing a car seat before your child is 9 years old or over 4’7” tall
  • Using a car seat bought in the United States
  • Loaning or selling a car seat manufactured before 2012

You risk facing the following penalties if you break the law:  

  • $80 to $100 fine
  • 3 demerit points 

Your child’s height and weight will determine the type of car seat you have to use:  

  • Rear-facing seat
  • Forward-facing seat
  • Booster seat
     

Rear-facing seat

Your newborn should be safely secured in this seat from birth until at least 2 years old. 

The rear-facing position is safest for little ones. So, find a seat model that can be used in this position for as long as possible… even if you can’t admire your little muffin in the rearview mirror. 

To install it

  1. Recline the seat. Place a foam noodle or rolled towel where the car seat and seatback meet.  
  2. Secure the car seat with a seat belt or universal anchorage system (UAS) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your seat model includes a detachable base (aka a shell), this is what should be secured with the seat belt or UAS. One way to confirm if it is secured? When you hear a “click”, that means the seat has properly latched into its base.
  3. Set the car seat or base in place by locking a seat belt or UAS. The car seat should not be able to tilt forward or move side-to-side more than 2.5 cm.

How to buckle Baby

  1. Check the height of the harness straps. They must be at or below the level of your child’s shoulders.
  2. Fasten the straps.
  3. Adjust the clip between the straps so it is at armpit level. 
  4. Tighten the straps until a single finger can fit between the shoulder and the straps. 

Are your child’s feet touching the seat backrest? Little legs can safely bend. 

Forward-facing seat

Baby is bigger now and can transition to a forward-facing seat!

To install it

Consult your vehicle owner’s manual to check the maximum weight limit that the UAS and tether anchor can support. If the weight of the seat and your child exceed this limit, you have to secure the car seat with a seat belt.

  1. Recline the child car seat if it has a reclining mechanism.  
  2. Secure the seat with a seat belt or UAS.  
  3. Attach the tether strap to your vehicle’s anchor point. Tighten fully.
  4. Tighten the seat belt or UAS until the car seat cannot be tilted forward or moved side-to-side more than 2.5 cm.

How to buckle Baby

You can repeat the same instructions here that you followed with a rear-facing seat:  

  1. Check the height of the harness straps. They must be at or below the level of your child’s shoulders.
  2. Fasten the straps.
  3. Adjust the clip between the straps so it is at armpit level.
  4. Tighten the straps until a single finger can fit between the shoulder and the straps. 


Booster seat

Your baby has grown… but not enough to ditch the car seat. This is where a booster seat comes in handy. It raises the little one up so a seat belt can fit snugly across the shoulder and hip. 

When buying a car seat, look for a model with an integrated headrest, especially if your car seats are low or don’t have headrests.

How to use it

This model is the easiest to use. It only requires a seat belt to keep your child securely in place. 

Consult the manufacturer’s instruction manual if your booster seat model has a UAS. 

How to buckle your child

The seat belt has to cross the middle of the shoulder and be fastened at the top of the hips. 

No sloppy seat belt under the arm or behind the back. In the event of an accident, a properly fastened seat belt can be a lifesaver. 

Finally, just the seat belt! 

It is a real rite of passage transitioning from a booster seat. Despite your eagerness to make this move, the law stipulates it should not be installed in your car until: 

  • your child is 9 years old, or
  • they are 4’9” tall and up

Two conditions have to be met before removing the booster seat and only using a seat belt. Check the following two things when your child is sitting on the backseat and buckled up: 

  • Your child’s back is well supported on the seat. Their legs are long enough for the knees to bend at the edge of the seat. This is a comfortable position to travel. 
  • The seat belt crosses the middle of the shoulder and hip. It doesn’t rest on the neck or stomach.

Moving on up to the front seat? 

Wait until your child is 12 or older before letting them sit in the front seat. 

The back seat is safer. It is the furthest away from the impact of a frontal crash where an airbag could deploy. 

Choosing the right car seat

There’s a wide range of options to choose from when it comes time to buy a car seat. Let recommendations offered on reputable websites guide you in your search.  

Keep in mind that car seat safety regulations vary from one province to the next so choose a local retailer. You can rest easy knowing the selected model complies with the law and will protect what you hold most precious: your child. 

Confirm an instruction manual is included in the packaging. You will need that to install the car seat. It will also come in handy to determine when to change the seat according to your child’s size.

Finally, register the car seat warranty with the manufacturer. This is the best way to receive a recall notice.

Is it wise to choose a used car seat? 

Don’t chase bargains when it comes to road safety. Choose a new car seat over a used one whether it’s for a short trip or the spare to leave in the grandparents’ car. 

If you need to rent one, here are some criteria to help you make an informed choice:  

  • Expiration date has not passed. 
  • It is in good condition with no damaged or missing parts.
  • Transport Canada National Safety Mark label is still attached to the seat.  
  • You have the instruction manual on hand to refer to during seat installation.  
  • It has not been involved in a traffic accident.  
  • It has not been subject to a safety recall (consult the vehicles, tires, child car seats recalls database to confirm).

Some car seat stats 

In Quebec, one out of every two kids does not get properly strapped in a car seat. 

Let’s break down the numbers:  

  • 86.4% of children under 5 are put in a car seat adapted to their height and weight. 
  • Among these 86.4%, the car seat is safely attached and the child is properly buckled only 50.1% of the time.

When we know that a properly installed car seat cuts the risk of serious injury or death in an accident by 70%, it is a no-brainer to do your part to ensure children’s safety in the car. 

Key to staying safe: constant adjustment

Strapping your child in a car seat is one of those daily repetitive acts. Avoid going through the motions on autopilot. Remain vigilant by adjusting the seat harness and buckle each time. 

Pay particular attention during seasonal changes as Baby’s clothing constantly switches between heavier and lighter options. 

Err on the side of caution

Consult the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) website. It provides detailed information on all car seat types, video capsules showing the right way to do things and the Secure Them for Life publication.  

If you are involved in a car crash

Buy a new car seat even if there appears to be no damage to the car seat involved in the accident. 

The smallest crack could impact your child’s safety. So, there is no room for debate here… 

Did you know that a majority of insurers will cover the cost of a replacement car seat after an accident? Check with your insurer to see if you can be compensated.