Child Passenger Safety

Keeping your child safe in the car can feel overwhelming. Many parents have questions about how to make sure their child is properly secured. What kind of car seat do you need? How do you install it? When do you need to change car seats? When will your child be ready for a seat belt? 

The law in Ontario says that the driver is responsible for making sure any person less than 16 years old is properly secured according to their weight, height and age.  

Check out the 4 stages below to see where your child fits. 

Stage 1 - Rear-facing car seats

 The law in Ontario says that you must have your baby in a rear-facing car seat from birth to at least 9 kg (20 lbs.). However, it is best to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. Some rear-facing car seats are for children that weigh up to 20 kg (50 lbs.). It is okay for your child’s legs to touch the back of your vehicle's seat as long as your child is still below the weight and height limits of the child car seat.

How to install your rear-facing car seat

Always check your vehicle's manual and car seat's user guide for how to install your child's car seat. To ensure a proper recline, use the level indicator found on the car seat. Always check for movement at the belt path. Make sure the car seat does not move more than 2.5 cm (1") from side to side or from front to back.

How to buckle up your child

Make sure the shoulder harness straps are at or just below your baby's shoulders and that the chest clip is at armpit level. Use the “Pinch Test” to ensure that the harness is properly secured. In order to do this, you need to pinch the harness vertically, at your child’s shoulders.  If you can pinch and hold the harness, then it needs to be tightened. 

For information on the positioning of the handle on your child's car seat, check your car seat's user guide or speak with the manufacturer. 

Stage 2 - Forward-facing car seats
 The law in Ontario says that your child needs to be in a car seat until a minimum of 40 lbs.  Keep in mind that it is best to keep your child rear facing as long as possible (until they reach the maximum height or weight outlined in the car seat manual). Once your child has outgrown the seat in the rear-facing position, you can turn the car seat to forward-facing. Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat for as long as possible before switching to a booster seat. Many forward-facing car seats can safely restrain a child up to 30 kg (65 lbs.).

How to install your forward-facing car seat

Always check your vehicle's manual and car seat's user guide for how to install your child car seat. Always check for movement at the belt path. Make sure the car seat does not move more than 2.5 cm (1") from side to side or front to back.

How to connect the tether strap 

If you have a forward-facing car seat, you must connect the tether strap to the tether anchor in your vehicle. You will find the tether strap at the top of the car seat. The strap keeps your child's car seat from moving forward in a collision. If your vehicle does not have a tether anchor, contact a dealership to have one put in.

How to buckle up your child

Make sure the shoulder harness straps are at or just above the child's shoulders and that the chest clip is at armpit level.

Stage 3 - Booster seats
 The law in Ontario says that your child needs to be a minimum of 40lbs in order to use a booster seat. It is best to keep your child in a car seat for as long as possible. Once in a booster, your child should remain in a booster seat until one of the following occurs.

Your child is:

  • 8 years of age, or
  • 36 kg (80 lbs.), or
  • 145 cm (4' 9") tall

If your child has met one of the above criteria, they may not be completely ready for a seatbelt. See below to determine whether your child is ready to be restrained without a booster seat.

Stage 4 - Seat Belts
 Seat belts are designed for older children and adults. Your child is ready for a seat belt ONLY when:
  • Your child's back is against the back of the vehicle's seat;
  • Your child's knees hang over the seat and feet are touching the floor;
  • The shoulder belt can fit across your child's shoulder, NOT on the neck or face; and
  • The lap belt fits snugly across your child's hip bones, NOT on the stomach.

If your child does not meet all of the above, it is recommended that you continue to use a booster seat.

Seat Belt Safety Tips

  • If your child is under 13 years of age they are safest in the back seat of the vehicle. Most vehicles have front seat air bags, and these can hurt your child if the bags inflate during a crash or sudden stop.
  • Never put two children in the same seat belt
  • Never place the shoulder strap behind your child's back or tucked under the arm
  • Ensure that when your child is sitting, the shoulder belt fits across the shoulder and not on the neck or the arm.
  • Ensure that the lap belt fits snugly across the hip bones and not across the stomach

Other Helpful Tips

  • Big snowsuits or winter clothing are not recommended for use with a car seat, as they can prevent the harness from being tightened properly.
  • Do not leave loose items in your vehicle because they will become projectiles in a collision and may cause injury to passengers.
  • Items that did not come with your child's car seat (after-market products) may not be safe to use.  For more information on after-market products, please visit Transport Canada.
  • Register your child's car seat with the manufacturer. They will notify you if there has been a recall on your child's car seat.
  • Always replace a car seat that is expired, torn, broken, or was  in a vehicle during a collision.

Please note: In Ontario, if you do not properly secure your child in a car seat, the fine is up to $1,000.00 plus 2 demerit points on conviction. 

Need Help?  Have more questions?

Contact the Ottawa Safety Council at 613-238-1513 ext. 229, or email them at bestfit@ottawasafetycouncil.ca to speak to a Child Passenger Safety Technician. Or register online for a car seat installation clinic Ottawa Safety Council's BestFit Program

Call the Ottawa Public Health Info Centre at 613-PARENTS [613-727-3687] (TTY: 613-580-9656) or email Ottawa Public Health at ParentinginOttawa@ottawa.ca

Connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page

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