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Summer Road Trips: Car Seat Regulations Refresher

Rear-facing child safety seat

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine with a young toddler was giving me and another friend a ride to a party. A couple of days before, she and I had the following exchange via text.

Me: Oh, hey! It turns out B also needs a ride. Do you have room in your backseat for one more?

Her: No, sorry - the car seat is back there.

Me: Oh, right. Well, maybe you could just...

Her: Just what? Take it out? No, Rose. I can't just 'take it out'. Installing that thing nearly ended my marriage. That seat is staying in there until the kid outgrows it.

Me: ...I respect that.

Looking back, I should have had more sympathy. I don't have kids, but installing the backseat "bridge" so that our arthritic senior dog would quit slipping off the bench nearly caused me to torch it and the car - and that apparatus is FAR less complicated than installing a child safety seat.

Given how frustrating it can be to set up these kinds of things, I suppose it's not a huge surprise that, according to this article in Driving, between 80 and 90 percent of child car seats in Canada are installed incorrectly. But obviously, it is a huge problem. With summer road trip season upon us, now seems like a good time to make sure that your kids' car seats are up to code and installed correctly.

We did a post about car seat safety a couple of years back but in researching this article, I learned a few new things.

1. Car seats have expiry dates. Once this date has passed, they must be replaced - even if they look fine and have never been involved in a collision. It may seem like a big expense to replace a car seat just because it's expired, but car seats can take quite a beating from their tiny occupants; between UV ray damage from the sun, normal wear and tear and frequent changes to car seat regulations, staying on top of your car seat's expiry date is important.

2. Rear-facing seats. According to this article in the Huffington Post, 75 percent of parents in the U.S. switch from a rear-facing car seat to a front-facing seat too early. In the U.S., the recommended minimum age to switch to a front-facing seat is 2 years old. But in Sweden, where traffic fatalities are among the lowest in the world, kids can stay in rear-facing seats up until the age of four.

Transport Canada recommends basing your decision not on age, but on your child's height and weight. As long as they still meet the height and weight requirements of the rear-facing seat, it is safest to continue using that seat - even if it seems more convenient to switch to the front-facing seat.

3. Advisory notices and recalls. We mentioned in our previous article that importing a car seat from the U.S., where they can be less expensive, is illegal. Canada has some of the strictest child seat safety codes in the world and many car seat manufacturers outside of Canada don't conform to those codes. You can be fined for using a car seat that doesn't feature the National Safety Mark. Plus, if you purchase your seat outside of Canada, you may not find out if and when your model of car seat has been recalled, which is critical for your child's safety. Check out Transport Canada for the most recent car seat advisories.

4. Free classes on how to install your car seat. You have the manual. You have the internet. You have a degree in engineering. But you might still need some hands-on help to ensure you've got that seat installed right. The good news is that free classes on how to properly install your child safety seat are available across Canada. To find one near you, visit the Transport Canada site.

Here are some general tips from Transport Canada about the proper use of car seats: 

  • By law, kids must be buckled-up in a seat or restraint made for their weight, height and age. Read your provincial/territorial law for details.
  • Don’t rush to move your child up from one stage of seat to the next. As long they are still in the right weight/height range of the seat itself, they are safest in that seat.
  • Some child seats can be used for more than one stage. Read your car seat user guide for details (and to make sure you are using it correctly).
  • A snug harness means that only one finger should be able to fit between the harness and your child at the collarbone.
  • Do not leave loose items in your vehicle during a trip, as they may hit and hurt someone in a sudden stop.
  • Items that did not come with your new child seat (such as liners, trays or comfort straps) may not be safe to use. Contact the car seat manufacturer and ask if these items are safe to use with your new car seat.
  • The safest place for children 12 and under is the back seat of your car.

Did you struggle to install child safety seats in your vehicle? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.

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