Understanding the different car seat stages

Mounting evidence clearly shows that rear-facing car seats are far more protective than forward-facing car seats – up to 75 per cent more protective. Parachute wants to promote the practice of keeping young children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible. This means encouraging parents to resist the temptation to transition their children to forward facing at one year of age.

A simple way to understand the different car seat stages

While provincial car seat laws in Canada vary slightly, follow these recommendations to meet or exceed the law in any Canadian province or territory, and provide maximum protection for your child. Resist the temptation to move on to the next car seat stage too early.


Infants should remain in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible because these protect vulnerable bodies best. We recommend that parents continue to use a rear-facing car seat even when their child exceeds the standard 10 kilograms (22 pounds) criteria mandated by some provincial laws. Many rear-facing car seats are now designed for much heavier and taller children and we strongly encourage using such a model. While some provinces refer to one year of age as when you can consider moving to forward-facing, we urge parents to use a rear-facing seat for as long as it fits their child’s height and weight and until the child is walking confidently and unassisted, which indicates good spinal development.


Once a child has outgrown the height and weight restrictions for their rear-facing car seat and can walk unassisted (well over one year of age), they can move to a forward-facing car seat that matches their height and weight. We strongly encourage children to remain in the rear-facing stage for as long as possible. We strongly encourage parents to choose a forward-facing car seat that fits a higher range of height and weight, so that a child can use it for longer.

Booster seat

When a child is too big for their forward-facing car seat, it’s time to try some booster seat models. It’s important to get a good fit, so it may be necessary to try several types. There is some evidence to suggest high back booster seats are preferable. The booster seat must position the vehicle seatbelt low on the child’s hips, and the shoulder belt must rest in the middle of the child’s shoulder, not touching the neck.  Parents are strongly urged to use a booster seat until their child reaches a height of at least 145 centimetres (4 feet, 9 inches) tall, and this is the law in some provinces.

Seatbelt alone

Your child has arrived at this stage when they have outgrown their booster seat height and weight restrictions, or the booster seat no longer positions the vehicle lap and shoulder belt correctly on your child’s body. When moving to this stage, be sure to test where the seatbelt rests, in the same manner as the booster seat functioned. The vehicle lap belt must rest low on the child’s hips, and the shoulder belt must rest in the middle of the child’s shoulder, not touching the neck.  If neither the seatbelt alone, nor the current booster seat, position the lap and shoulder belt properly, a different model of booster seat is required until the child has grown a little taller.