When I had my first child over 11 years ago I spent so much time lovingly planning her nursery, choosing cute clothing, diapers and a stroller. What I didn’t spend time researching was her first car seat. Of course I knew she needed a car seat but I didn’t think about it much past the purchase and looking back now, I know I made many unknowing mistakes. Motor vehicle crashes are sadly the number one cause of death for Canadian children. And using a child restraint properly can reduce the risk of fatality and injury. After buying and having my daughter outgrow many seats far too quickly, I realized that I needed to spend more time thinking about car seat safety and have since become a Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor and a founding member of Vancouver Island Car Seat Technicians.
Now with the internet we have so many ways to research car seats and with that comes the overwhelming aspect of possibly too much information. Hopefully these handy tips can help you navigate the process.
Which seat is the best seat? I am asked that often and it a good question! But not an easy one to answer. The best seat is a seat that fits the child, fits the vehicle, is in your price range and is one that you will use properly each and every time. Car seats have a huge price range. However, we don’t have safety ratings in North America and we don’t know that one particular seat will perform better in a crash than another--so expensive isn't necessarily better! We do have strict testing standards though in Canada and all seats sold for the Canadian market have passed those testing standards and are very safe when used properly. Some more expensive seats may have bells and whistles that allow for an easier installation and easier use but even the simplest seats are very safe. I do always advise a family to consider their needs and to go test seats in their vehicle to ensure that the seat fits in their vehicle before purchase if possible.
Don’t rush the stages. There are four stages of car seats. Rear facing, forward facing, booster and the adult seat belt. Babies need to be rear facing in either an infant(bucket style) seat or in a Convertible(Infant/Child) seat from birth. This seat needs to be reclined as much as allowed by the seat, to ensure that a newborn’s airway is protected. But rear facing isn’t just for newborns. It’s recommended that children remain rear facing to at least the age of two, or better yet to the limits of your particular convertible car seat which could be 3 or 4 years of age. Rear facing protects the child’s head, neck and spine in a crash. Children then need to be in a forward facing harnessed seat until they are about age 5 or 6 as switching to a booster seat means the childnow has to be responsible for their own safety as they no longer have a harness to keep them safely in place. Boosters start at 40lbs or 18 kgs and work by safely keeping the child boosted in a seat belt that is made for an average sized adult. Kids should remain in a booster until they fit the adult seat belt and pass the 5 Step Test usually around the age of 10-12 years of age or are 4’9” (145 cm) tall. I know it feels like the time of the car seat will never end, but I promise it will! And no one wants to regret not using a correctly installed car seat.
Install the seat properly. And I don’t say that lightly! Read your car seat manual. And your vehicle manual. I know it is boring. And sometimes a struggle. And sometimes very confusing. But each seat has it’s own set of rules and you won’t know them until you have read the manual. The seat has to move less than 1” side to side or front to back at the path of the seat belt or the lower anchors(UAS). Make sure the belt or UAS strap is in the correct belt path. Rear facing, the seat needs to be installed at a specific angle or range of angles for the seat. And all forward facing harnessed seats MUST use the top tether attached to a dedicated anchor in your vehicle. But what happens when you do all of that and still can’t get your seat properly installed? Or have questions? That’s where I come in. Contact a tech in your area. We are here to help--not to judge. No question is too silly or unimportant.
Use your seat properly. Each seat has it’s own set of rules. So if you missed it before, read the manual! General rules are that the harness must be at or below the shoulders for rear facing and at or above for forward facing seats. Use the “pinch test” to make sure the harness is tight enough. If you can pinch slack in the harness at the collarbone then it isn’t tight enough. And make sure the chest clip is properly positioned over the breastbone by placing it at armpit level.
Don’t add aftermarket items or wear bulky clothing in the car seat. Those adorable harness covers and head huggers look appealing and seem like a good idea but did you know they aren’t allowed by most car seat manufacturers and could actually be doing harm? Anything that interferes with the harness and doesn’t come with the seat has not been tested with the seat. Those infant bunting bags sure look cozy but should NOT be used in the seat. They too, along with bulky winter coats, can also compress dangerously and could allow a child to be ejected out of the seat in a crash. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep baby warm in the car. Thin, warm, non compressible layers with a well fitting fleece jackets or pjs, hats and mitts and a warm blanket over the child after they are buckled are ideal.
All of this really just is a guide. There are so many other things I would love to include but can’t so again I’ll say read your manual, learn to install your seat properly and come join us at our Facebook or Webpage www.vicarseattechs.com We are always happy to help navigate the confusing world of car seats!
Laura Hagen originally from Ontario and now calls the Cowichan Valley home. She is the mother of 3 girls who are active in the competitive swimming. As a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor and a founding member of Vancouver Island Car Seat Technicians, she spends countless hours answering questions and delivering car seat safety education. When she isn't busy with the girls, chauffeuring and the VICST webpage she enjoys walks and spinning.