Car seat considerations

Back seat or front seat?

Safety experts strongly recommend that children under 12 years of age always ride in the back seat of a vehicle. All passengers are safest in the back seat, but since that’s not always possible, experts agree that younger passengers should sit in the back, because they are less physically developed and more at risk of severe injury.

When parents need to transport several children and all the back seats are being used, the oldest child may sit in the front seat. No matter where a child sits, they must be in a car seat that is right for their height and weight, and the car seat must be attached correctly to the vehicle seat. If the car seat manual indicates that both a lap belt and shoulder belt are necessary (with a booster seat for example), or that a tether strap is required, this must be followed. Rear-facing car seats should never be put in the front seat of a vehicle, because this is too dangerous for the infant.

The front passenger air bags must be turned off if a child is sitting in the front seat. Air bags are designed to protect larger passengers, but can seriously hurt a child. Vehicle manuals provide information on turning off air bags, and car dealerships can also help. 

While booster seat regulations vary by province, best practices recommend that children should remain in a booster seat until they are at least 145cm (4'9). Do this 5-step test with them to see that they are ready to move from a booster seat to a seat belt: 

  1. The child can sit all the way back against the back of the vehicle seat.
  2. The knees bend comfortably over the edge of the vehicle seat without slouching
  3. The lap belt fits snugly across the top of the thighs and doesn't ride up on the stomach
  4. The should belt goes across the chest bone and the middle of the shoulder, NOT across the neck and NEVER behind the back. 
  5. The child can sit properly for the entire trip. 

Never alone in the car

Children should never be left alone in a vehicle.  Children have suffered from heat or cold-related injury and even death when they have been left alone in hot or cold cars.

Children can also become trapped in power windows when they put their head out the window of a parked car and lean on the window switch. Parents can prevent this type of injury by never leaving their child alone in a parked or idling vehicle. Some newer vehicles have lever switches, which are safer than other types of switches.

After stopping their car, parents should take sleeping babies and children out of the vehicle right away. It is also important to lock vehicle doors and the trunk when not in use so older children do not get in the vehicle.

Sleeping in car seats

Children often fall asleep in their car seats while travelling but car seats are designed to transport your child safely in a vehicle and they should never be used in place of a crib. Here are some guidelines that parents and caregivers can follow:

  • Newborns are at risk of breathing difficulties while in car seats, because they lack the strength in their necks to hold their heads up. Limit time in the seat for a newborn, make sure they are positioned properly and breathing comfortably when traveling. A semi-upright position is not healthy for newborns.
  • Once a baby reaches one month of age, the risk of breathing difficulty is greatly reduced, but parents should still be careful to check on them and take rest stops during longer trips. A car seat is not a safe place for baby to sleep.
  • Ensure that the rear-facing car seat is at the correct angle of 45 degrees. This reduces the risk of a baby’s head dropping forward and causing breathing problems. 
  • When parents use an infant carrier or car seat outside of a vehicle, they should do so for only a short time and stay close by. It’s important to keep the baby buckled in, and place the seat on a low level, such as the floor rather than on a table. This will reduce the chance of the car seat falling.

Air bags 

Air bags are designed to protect adults and older children, but can seriously hurt a young child or infant. Parents can keep children under 12 years of age away from air bags by putting them in the back seat of the vehicle. If a child must sit in the front seat, it is important to turn the air bag off. 

Add-on products

Products that don't come with a new car seat should not be used. Some examples include: bunting bags, seatbelt adjusters, attachable plastic trays or mirrors, harness strap covers or head support pads. These products were not crash-tested with the car seats and could contribute to injury in a collision or sudden stop.

Clothing in car seats

Car seat experts advise against dressing children in bulky snowsuits when they are in car seats. Thick and/or puffy winter jackets prevent car seat straps from sitting securely against the child’s chest. Instead, ideally children should be dressed in fall weather clothing, such as an undershirt, hat and fleece sleeper. Once the child is in the seat and the straps are secure, a blanket(s) can be placed over them. Even if car seat straps are secured over a bulky jacket, in a collision the force and impact can cause the jacket to decompress, and the straps to become loose.

Thinner, less bulky snowsuits are acceptable alternatives to "cuddle bags" and sleeping bags. However, straps must be secured tightly, not just resting on top of clothing, and readjusted each time the child is placed in the car seat.

Tether straps

All forward-facing car seats require a tether strap. New vehicles come with factory installed tether bolts. Drivers can look in their vehicle manual to see where the tether anchor is located. Often with an older vehicle, the dealership will assist with installing the anchor bolt.

The tether strap should be installed directly behind the car seat. The purpose of the tether strap is to prevent the top of the car seat from moving forward in the event of a collision or sudden stop.

Universal Anchorage System (UAS) also called LATCH system

The UAS is simply another way to attach a car seat to the vehicle, instead of using the vehicle seatbelts. Parents can choose to use either the UAS or the vehicle seatbelts, but should not use both. Some parents may find that the UAS is a quicker method, especially if the car seat will be moved from one vehicle to another on occasion.

Vehicles made after Sept. 1, 2002, have UAS anchors. Drivers can look in their vehicle to find the location of the UAS connectors, and how to use them properly. They look like small metal bars and are located where the seat back meets the bottom part of the seat. It is important to check with the vehicle manual to see what seating positions have the UAS – not all vehicles allow for the centre seating position to use UAS.