Thirty years ago, car safety was so much simpler than today; all the child had to do was stand up with both hands firmly pressed against the front seat or dashboard. The harder he held on, the safer he was! It was also a time when some people had e a beer behind the wheel, a time where seatbelts and studies on road safety were rather scarce.
Fortunately, our awareness to car travel risks, and more importantly, our knowledge of the tools available to protect children, have made a huge progress, so much so that many people now have trouble making sense of the vast array of car seats on the market.
Since October 29, 2002, the Highway Safety Code makes it mandatory to use a car seat for "children whose sitting height is less than 63 cm". Age is no longer a reference; the sitting height of the child (measured from the seat to the top of the head) is now what matters. A shorter 7 or 8 year-old may then have to travel in a car seat just as a younger child.
Newborn seats are designed for children under 9 kilos (20 pounds) or shorter than 66 centimetres (26 inches).
It must be installed backwards on the back seat, providing the child with superior neck and rib cage protection in case of an accident or sudden breaking. The SAAQ recommends you use the newborn seat that way until the child can stand up by himself, so at least until he is 12 months old.
If your car doesn’t have a passenger air bag, you can use the front seat after backing it up all the way. If your car has a passenger air bag, never put the newborn seat in front.
The newborn seat must be placed at a 45° angle so that the baby is neither laying down nor standing up. If the seat isn't angled, put a rolled towel underneath it to correct this.
Mount the baby seat on the car seat with the safety belt by making it go through the notches on the baby seat. You can place the shoulder safety belt behind the seat if it is long enough. Otherwise, make it go through the notches designed for this use. Recent cars come with universal anchorages (ISOFIX/LATCH) that can safely hold back the seat with a special strap without using the car's belts. If there is no such strap, you can buy one and ask your car dealer to install it.
If the seat comes with a base, start by attaching it to the car seat with the safety belt or the anchoring system and special strap. Then attach the seat to its base. For it to be held tight, put a knee in the baby seat to push it against the backrest and then tighten the belt as much as you can. The baby seat should barely move. Put the harness through the seat notches just below the baby's shoulders, and push the clip up to tie everything together at armpit level.
If your child is over 9 kilos (20 pounds) or 66 centimetres (26 inches), but his tonus is still weak, put him in a child car seat. You must also place that seat towards the back of your car and install it as you would install a newborn seat. Make sure the child seat is also designed to go backwards.
This seat is designed for children from 9 to 18 kilos (20 to 40 pounds) and 66 to 102 centimetres (26 to 40 inches). Several designs are available, among them some that can transform into a booster seat, saving you that purchase in a few years. Since the child is now older and this seat will be used for a longer period than the newborn seat, look for a seat with a dark and easy-to-remove cover that will be easier to wash.
If you don’t have other children to carry in the vehicle, place the seat facing forward in the middle of the back seat. It’s the safest position in case of an impact. Otherwise, choose the side that will allow you to see the child best, either with the rear-view mirror or by slightly turning your head. Don't forget that your attention must remain on the road even if the child is throwing a fit to get your attention.
The car seat must absolutely be attached to the vehicle with an anchoring strap securely attached to a bolt on a metallic car part. Your mechanic can install one if your car doesn't have one already. This strap will prevent the top of the seat to flip over forward upon impact. Even if it is attached to the universal anchoring system, the seat must still be held back by the anchoring strap.
Also fasten the seat with the safety belt by making it go through the child seat, which will make it even safer. To hold it tight, put a knee in the child seat to push it against the backrest and then tighten the belt as much as you can. The seat should barely move.
When the child is sitting in his seat, put the harnesses in the seat's notches located just above his shoulders.
Next, lock the metal strap in the buckle and make sure that the shoulder harness is tight around the child's body (only one finger should fit between) and that the chest clip linking them is at armpit level.
The booster seat is designed for children heavier than 18 kilos (40 pounds) and must be used until the child is at least 63 centimetres tall when sitting, from the bum to the top of the head. It is required by law.
It is used to make the child taller so he can adequately use an adult safety belt. The booster seat allows you to place the belt on the child's hips rather than on the stomach, and the shoulder safety belt must also run across his clavicle rather than his neck. Important: never place the shoulder safety belt behind the child or under his arm.
When the child is taller than 63 centimetres sitting down, he no longer needs the booster seat. The trick to safely use the belt is to place the lap belt as low as possible on the hips, so that it is above the thighs to avoid any stomach or spinal cord injury. The shoulder safety belt must go above the shoulder, across the chest and lock at the hip.
Used car seats
We advise against getting a used car seat unless you know how it was used.
Things to check on a car seat that belonged to someone else
- The seat has never been in an accident.
- The seat has never been recalled (you can get a list of all recalled car seats on Transports Canada's website).
- There are no missing or damaged parts.
- The seat is less than 10 years old.
- The Transports Canada compliance label is still on the seat.
- The manufacturer's instructions are included.
- Avoid buying a car seat in the US. American standards are different from ours.
- Fill out and return the registration card provided when you purchase the seat. If the manufacturer issues a recall, you will be informed.
- If you have an accident, replace the child seat even if it doesn't look damaged. Feel free to include the new seat’s cost in your insurance claim. However, to do so, you will need to have kept your receipt.
Even if you followed the instructions rigorously, you might want to get a professional to check that it was done correctly. Awareness and verification campaigns done across Quebec have shown that only two out of every ten seats are installed properly.
In partnership with the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), the CAA created the permanent provincial child car seat verification network.
Its goal is to offer a permanent car seat verification service to parents and to anyone caring about young children’s safety on the road, for all Quebec regions and all year long.
In Quebec, several dozen garages are recognized by the CAA and can answer all your questions for a reasonable fee. To get the complete list, visit the CAA-Quebec website or call their toll-free number at 1-800-686-9243.
Some verification clinics are regularly organised by police services across Quebec. You can call your local police department to know when these free clinics are held in your region.