Just over a decade ago, Transport Canada conducted a survey to determine how widely child restraints were being used in cars.


An Evenflo Co. car seat equipped with a built-in cup holder sits inside the company's showroom in Vandalia, Ohio. As more jurisdictions push four- to eight-year-olds back into safety seats, manufacturers also have added padding, neck pillows, snack holders and slots for toys.

The people conducting the survey watched cars at stop signs and traffic lights in 206 locations across the country. They counted more than 22,000 kids under the age of 16 in cars during a one-week period in July 1997.

Not all of them were buckled up. Of children under the age of one, 4.3 per cent were not restrained in any way. Just under 70 per cent were in an appropriate infant carrier and 0.3 per cent were being "protected" by a seat belt designed for an adult.

Of kids between the ages of one and two, less than two-thirds were in the right kind of car seat.

Nothing kills more Canadian children and teens than traffic accidents, according to the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program. According to Transport Canada, 10,000 children under the age of 12 are injured in traffic accidents every year.

An unrestrained child in a car that crashed while travelling at 50 kilometres per hour would fare as badly as a child dropped from a third-storey window.

Holding your child in your lap is no protection either. In a crash at just 40 km/h, it takes only one-tenth of a second for you and the baby to hit the dashboard.

Crash tests have demonstrated that it's impossible to hang on to a crash-test dummy baby no matter how tightly you're holding it — even if you're wearing a lap/shoulder belt.

Putting that kid in a car seat reduces the chances of injury or death by as much as 75 per cent — as long as that car seat is installed correctly.

Most car seats not installed properly

Various surveys have found that as many as 90 per cent of child safety seats are installed incorrectly.

The British Columbia Automobile Association randomly checked the installations of 1,000 child car seats. Only seven per cent had been installed correctly.

Clinics held by Ontario's Ministry of Transportation have found that as many as 80 per cent of car seats are improperly installed.

Among the most common errors cited:

  • Child seat not tightly secured in the vehicle.
  • Child seat not securely fastened in the seat.
  • Tethers not used correctly, or used at all.
  • Shoulder harness placed in the incorrect slot of the child seat.
  • Child in the incorrect seat for his/her weight, height and age.

There are three main types of seats used to secure young children in cars. They are:

  • Infant seats.
  • Convertible seats.
  • Booster seats.

Infant seats

These seats are designed for infants under a year old. Their neck muscles are not strong enough to resist much force. These are rear-facing seats, secured by the car's seat belts as well as a metal latch that is secured to the car. The seat is designed to protect an infant from birth to about nine kilograms.

Convertible seats

Convertible seats can face either backward or forward. They often have five-point harnesses. They need to be turned backward until the child can hold his or her head up and the neck and spine are strong (usually at around 12 months). This style of seat can be used until the child is about 18 kilograms or around 4½ years old.

Booster seats

Until recently, most parents would move their kids straight into a seatbelt after they outgrew their car seat. That can be a big mistake. A child car seat is designed to protect someone who weighs up to 18 kilograms (40 pounds). Seat belts are put together with a 75-kilogram (165 pound) man in mind.

With kids, the lap belt tends to ride up on the abdomen and the shoulder belt often cuts across the face or neck. Children can be injured by seat belts that do not fit them correctly as well as by belts that are not worn correctly.

Booster seats were designed to correct this problem for most children between the ages of four and eight (or weighing up to 36 kilograms or 80 pounds). They raise children to a height at which lap and shoulder belts can be worn correctly.

The booster seat is held in place by the seatbelt. It is not tethered to the car like a child car seat.

Children using seat belts instead of booster seats are 3.5 times more likely to suffer significant injury, and four times more likely to suffer head injury.

Provinces that require booster seats

The federal government regulates standards for booster seats and child car seats. But it's up to the provinces to set the rules for using seat belts and child restraint devices. Most provinces currently have laws making car seats mandatory only when parents are driving their own children in the family's car, van or truck.

In September 2005, Ontario became the first province to require the use of booster seats. The legislation: 

  • Makes booster seats mandatory for pre-school and primary grade-age children too big for a child car seat, but too small to properly use a seat belt.
  • Gives demerit points to drivers who do not use the correct infant and toddler car seats or who use them incorrectly.
  • Requires more drivers, such as grandparents and babysitters, to use child car seats when transporting children. Exemptions would include taxis, emergency services vehicles and out-of-province vehicles.

Since then, all provinces except Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have enacted similar legislation. Nunavut and the Northwest Territories do not require booster seats. The Yukon does.

Beware used seats — or seats bought in U.S.

Transport Canada says its tests of infant car seats require use of the LATCH system — Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children — as well as seatbelts. The system standardizes the installation of child restraints and lets you mount the restraints without using a car or truck's seatbelt system.

Most vehicles manufactured in North America after 2002 are required to include anchors allowing you to use the LATCH system.

To be approved for sale in Canada, infant car seats must pass Canadian standards — so if you come across a good deal on a car seat while travelling through the United States, you might want to double-check that it is approved for sale in Canada.

The same goes for car seats sold at flea markets or garage sales — buyer beware.

If you are buying a used car seat:

  • Make sure you have its instruction booklet.
  • Make sure it is not missing any parts.
  • Check the seat's useful life date: it should be printed on the seat or in the instruction booklet.
  • Don't use a seat that's been involved in a crash.
  • Check that the seat has not been recalled.

Your insurance company will likely not cover a claim involving a car seat that is not approved for sale in Canada.