Car seat and booster seat safety

It's hard to believe but before the 1970s, many babies did not ride in car safety seats. And if they did, their seats were simple plastic shells strapped in by a car's lap belt. Nowadays, it is against the law to allow a baby to ride in a car without a Health Canada-approved car safety seat.

Choosing a car safety seat

During their very first ride home from the hospital, a newborn must be safely strapped into either an infants-only safety car seat (also called rear-facing infant seat) or a convertible seat properly adjusted for a newborn.

An infants-only seat is generally appropriate for babies up to 22 pounds (10 kg). This type of seat is only safe for use during travel, not for use as a sleeper. An infants-only seat should always be installed in the backseat of a vehicle in the rear-facing position. Rear-facing position provides protection for an infant in the event of a crash.

A convertible seat would safely fit a child from birth up to about 40 pounds (18 kg). Convertible seats can be adjusted into different positions and to suit newborns. A harness system attaches at 5 points on the baby - at each shoulder, each hip, and between the infant's legs. The safest positioning for a convertible seat is in the backseat in the rear-facing position.

Rear-facing is considered the safest position regardless of size or age. But when a child reaches at least 22 pounds and 1 year of age, a convertible seat can be switched to a front-facing position in the backseat. Once a child is in a forward-facing child seat, it is best to keep them in it until they outgrow it, usually when they reach about 65 pounds (30 kg).

Just as rear-facing seats are safer than forward-facing seats, forward-facing seats are similarly safer than booster seats. This is because forward-facing child seats spread the force of a sudden stop or crash over the strongest parts of the child's body, thereby decreasing the chance of more serious injury.

Once your child weighs between 40 and 80 pounds (18 kg and 36 kg), he or she will likely have outgrown a convertible car seat. And yet adult seat belts will still not fit properly. You'll need to bump them up to a booster seat, which must be used with both a lap belt (fit snugly across a child's upper thighs) and a shoulder belt (to reach middle of chest and shoulder). Vehicles with low-backed seats or no headrests should be outfitted with a high-backed booster seat to suit your child's size.

Installing car safety seats

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing your car safety seat. When installing a car safety seat in the rear-facing position, double check that it is in tightly and cannot be moved or shifted more than an inch in any direction. The harness should be positioned at or below an infant's shoulders, and the harness clip should be around mid-chest level.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing your car safety seat in the front-facing position, as recline angle and other details may be different from rear-facing installation.

Most vehicles made after 2002 will feature a system called UAS (Universal Anchorage System) or LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). Instead of using your vehicle's seat belts and locking clips, UAS allows you to install your child's seat using secure tethers and anchors. If your vehicle or safety seat is older, you can purchase a tether kit to enhance your child's stability and security.


  • Stay clear of air bags. A rear-facing seat should never be placed in the front seat with an active passenger air bag. In the event of an accident, an inflated air bag could cause serious injury to an infant riding in this position. Always place the seat in the center spot of the backseat so it is out of range of any side air bags. If you must install multiple seats, consult your car seat manual for the best way to position near a side air bag. And if you have no alternative but to place an infant safety seat or booster seat in the front, do so after deactivating the air bag, adjusting the seat to the rearmost track position, and tightly installing the infant safety seat according to manufacturer's instructions.

  • Adjust your baby for safe posture. Babies should be positioned so their heads do not flop forward and so they will not slouch sideways or down into their seat. Safety seats often have angle indicators to support baby's head. If yours does not, you can use padding placed around, not under or behind, your baby. During the winter, remove your child's bulky snow-wear before putting them into the seat. Also, buckle your baby in before covering with a blanket.

  • Use car seats only for travel. If your infant dozes off while in the car seat, it can be tempting to allow the nap to finish uninterrupted once you reach your destination. But car safety seats are not safe or appropriate for sleeping. Babies sleeping in a seated position can have constricted airways since their heads can fall forward. Place your sleeping baby in a crib that meets Canadian safety standards.

  • Be aware of expiry dates. Over time, a car safety seat becomes less safe due to general wear and tear. Thus, all safety seats sold in Canada must include an expiry date. If you receive a hand-me-down car seat from a generous friend, ask about its age and how it has been used, or what kind of history it has (e.g., has it ever been involved in a car accident of any type?). Look for visible cracks or missing parts.

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