Back when the earth was still flat, child safety in cars seemed to consist primarily of teaching them not to open the door on the highway.
Now things are much different, of course, but a large number of people still aren’t sure exactly how to use child safety seats, or even why they should. If you’ve ever said, “My family just put everybody in the back seat, and nothing ever happened,” then you need to keep reading.
The rate of child fatalities and injuries in vehicles has consistently dropped over the years, and it’s not because drivers are getting better. Vehicle safety improvements play a part, but putting children in appropriate seats is a major factor.
Types of seats
There are three main types of child seats: rearward-facing, forward-facing, and booster seats. The federal government sets safety standards for the seats themselves, but it’s up to the provinces to set laws for their use, including the child’s age and weight for each one.
Some parents believe that forward-facing seats should be used as early as possible, because the forces in a collision will often push a rearward-facing version into the backrest of the vehicle’s seat. While this does happen, the rearward-facing seat is still preferable, because the rear of the seat absorbs much of the crash energy.
Walk the walk
For this reason, rather than use weight or age measurements, parents should only move the child to a forward-facing seat when he or she has developed sufficiently to be able to walk without assistance. This is especially important because many young children are bigger than they were in the past, and may reach the weight recommendations before they’ve matured enough to safely make the switch.
A booster seat, meanwhile, serves only one purpose: to raise a child high enough so that he or she can use the vehicle’s seatbelt. When the child is in the booster seat, his position and that of the seatbelt must be the same as if an adult were sitting there: the child’s back must be flat against the back of the seat, the knees should be completely bent over the front of the seat cushion, the belt must cross the shoulder and lie flat against the middle of the chest, and the lap portion must be over the hips, not the abdonmen.
You already know that child seats shouldn’t be placed in the front seat, especially rearward-facing ones, because airbags deploy at some 300 km/h out of the dash. Ideally, children should always ride in the rear seat, and if they can’t, such as in two-seater cars or pickup trucks, the frontal airbag must be disabled.
Every new vehicle sold in Canada manufactured on or after September 1, 2002 has a Universal Anchorage System, or UAS. It’s also known as LATCH, for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. Child seats can be installed using the UAS or the vehicle’s seatbelt (one or the other, but not both at the same time), but if you have an older vehicle that doesn’t have shoulder belts in the rear seats, you’ll have to get them installed before you can transport your child.
Installing them properly
How do you know if your car seat is properly installed? First, follow the directions that came with the seat, and also with your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Then, try to attend a car seat clinic in your area (you can find more information on Transport Canada’s website). Ensure that the people hosting the event are certified for child seat installation, such as through programs from St. John’s Ambulance or the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada.
And just as your car may be too old to carry young children safely, a child seat may be as well. Although it’s not required by legislation, Transport Canada says that all child and booster seats sold in this country have an expiry date, or “useful life” date on them.
If you have a seat that was made before January 1, 2012, you can use it for your child until it reaches its recommended limited, but legislation by Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety Act makes it illegal for you to advertise it, sell it, or give it away, unless it meets the new safety standards that were brought in on the first of the year.
Registration is important
Any time you buy a seat, whether one that’s new or a used one within the acceptable time limits, be sure you register it with the seat manufacturer. Child restraints can be subject to recalls just as cars are, and if you’re registered, you’ll get notices in the mail. You can also visit Transport Canada’s database for information on car seat recalls and notices.
And while there are government standards for seats, Baines reminds parents that they are minimal. Just as with cars, some seats are better than others when it comes to safety.