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Car Seats 101

by Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs on April 3, 2013 · 1 comment

Car seats are confusing. There are so many rules, so many tiny details to know and understand, and there’s not a lot of education happening provincially to teach parents realize what they don’t know. Vancouver Island Car Seat Technicians are to help! Car crashes are the number one cause of death resulting from unintentional injuries for Canada’s children, age 0-14 (data from Stats Canada). Properly selecting, installing, and using a child restraint (car seat or booster seat) is the best thing you can do to keep your kids safe in the car. The following will give you an overview of the different stages of car and booster seats, with lots of links to more great information, and how to get more help if you need it.

Stage 1: Rear facing

The best practice is to remain rear facing to the limits of the seat – until at least age two; but the bare minimum by law in British Columbia is to 1 year old AND 22lbs, AND walking unassisted before turning forwards.

There are two types of seats children may be rear facing in: infant only ‘bucket’ style carriers or infant/child seats (also sometimes referred to as convertible seats). If using an infant carrier, check for approved in-vehicle handle position(s); there is no rule that applies to all infant carriers (some must always be down in the vehicle, some must always be up, and some allow more than one position).

When installing the seat, make sure it is reclined to approximately a 45° angle for newborns. Carefully follow angle indicators on your specific seat – use a bubble, gravity indicator, level-to-ground line, etc. — and if there are a range of reclines permitted, get it as reclined as possible while still being in the acceptable range. Check your manual to find out when and if you can install it more upright for older children. Ensure there is 1″ or less of movement in any direction at the belt path.

When buckling the child in the seat, ensure that the harness is AT or BELOW shoulder level. Legs touching the back of the seat is fine. Kids can sit in ways that would be uncomfortable for us!

Rear-facing seats are outgrown when the child approaches the height or weight limits for the seat, or has less than 1” of hard shell above the head (consult your manual for specifics).

Stage 2: Forward facing

Aim to keep the child harnessed until the limits of the seat, and at least 40lbs and developmentally ready to move to a booster (usually 5 or 6). The legal bare minimum in Canada for booster use is 40 pounds.

Children can be forward facing in an infant/child seat (sometimes also referred to as a convertible seat) or harnessed in a child/booster seat (sometimes referred to as a combination seat).

Ensure there is 1″ or less of movement in any direction at the belt path, and then connect the tether strap to a designated anchor point in the vehicle. If your older vehicle does not have tether anchors installed, you may be able to have them retrofitted. You must use an approved part from your vehicle manufacturer, never an after-market part from a hardware store. Contact a tech for more information or for the part number for your particular vehicle.

When harnessing your child in the seat, make sure that the harness is AT or ABOVE shoulder level.

Forward-facing seats are outgrown when the child approaches the height or weight limit of the seat, OR the tops of the ears are level with the top of the hard shell, OR when the top position of the harness is no longer at or above the shoulder level (whichever comes first).  If your child has outgrown the harnessed seat by height or weight but is not heavy enough or developmentally ready for a booster, look for a taller, higher-weight harnessed seat.

Stage 3: Booster seats

The purpose of a booster seat is to boost the child up so that the adult seat belt fits properly. The seat belt can not protect a child if the belt fit is poor.  Don’t rush to boostering. This article might help you decide if your child is ready for a booster.  Best practice is to remain in a booster until the belt fits better without the booster than with.

When transitioning to a booster, start with a high-back booster; it gives many kids a better sense of security, provides head support while sleeping, often provides better shoulder belt fit, and is required in vehicles without adequate head and neck support. High-back boosters have head support and belt guides to position the shoulder belt. Backless boosters do not have head support and a child must have in-vehicle head support up to at least the tops of their ears.

Boosters must be used with a lap/shoulder belt and never with a lap belt only. The lap belt should be low and flat across the upper thighs, parallel to the ground and never ride up on the belly; the shoulder belt should sit across the collarbone, not ride up on the neck or slip off the shoulder. Please note that the 3-in-1 seats (rear-facing to booster) most often provide terrible belt fit on most children and should never be used as booster seats. Dedicated booster seats are often inexpensive and many provide excellent fit on most children. The child must remain in the seated position at all times, even when sleeping, for the seat belt to protect them.

Stage 4: Seat belt

The minimum law in BC for children to move to a seat belt is at least 9 years old or 4’9″ tall, but more importantly, is whether the seat belt actually fits your child properly. Once your child can pass the ‘5 Step Test’ in whichever seating position s/he is in (and it might be different in each seat, or in different cars!), s/he can safely ride in a seat belt only.

According to Transport Canada, the back seat is the safest place for children 12 and under. A lap/shoulder belt is much safer than a lap-only belt for children and adults. A passenger in a lap-only belt is at increased risk of head and/or neck injuries as well as “seat belt syndrome”. They also put any passengers next to them at more risk since they will move more in the event of a crash.

General installation tips

  • Read your car seat manual, and the seat belt, and air bag sections in your vehicle manual
  • Harnessed seats must have 1″ or less of movement at the belt path when installed with either UAS (latch) or seat belt, but never both
  • Read your vehicle manual to make sure it’s okay to install a car seat in the spot you want it, using UAS or seat belt (you often can’t use UAS in the centre)
  • The centre is the safest seating position, but a solid outboard installation trumps a poor/incompatible centre installation every time
  • NEVER install a rear facing car seat in front of an active air bag
  • There is a weight limit when installing with UAS. Find out what it is for your vehicle and child restraint, and after that, install with the seat belt. If you don’t know, stop using UAS when your child weighs 40lbs and install the seat with the seat belt instead.
  • If installing with a seat belt, it must LOCK in some way: at the retractor, at the latch plate, with a locking clip, or with built-in lock-offs on the car seat
  • Check that you’re using the correct belt path (separate ones for rear and forward facing)
  • Never use an expired/recalled/crashed/dropped seat, or one that’s been checked as luggage on an airplane
  • Be very wary when buying a used seat – you are trusting the previous owner with your child’s life
  • Tighten the harness enough so you can’t pinch a horizontal fold at the collarbone
  • Chest clip must be at armpit level
  • Don’t over dress your child – use thin warm layers (like fleece) and cover with blankets. Bulky clothing can result in your child being ejected in a crash.
  • Remove projectiles from the vehicle, and tie down or stow anything that you wouldn’t throw at your child’s face.
  • More details on installation and harnessing can be found on our YouTube channel
  • Get your installation checked by a certified technician. Find a tech near you.

Vancouver Island Car Seat Technicians are on Facebook and online. Headed by three moms who collectively own a lot of car seats and between them have installed hundreds, they help parents shop for a seat, trouble shoot problems, answer questions, teach classes to certify new technicians, and volunteer at clinics.  They are loosely organized with other techs on Vancouver Island and beyond.  This is a passion, not a paying job, and by now they’ve reduced a lot of injuries and maybe even saved a life with the information they put out and the outreach they do.  And that feels good.  ~Laura, Lindsay & Jen

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lyra McLean April 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm

In comparison to our Canadian stats for motor vehicle fatalities in children which you quoted above, I found this statistic (as published in the Globe and Mail Thursday, Dec. 06 2012 in Joanne Will’s article “How long should my baby be in a rear-facing car seat”) truly mind-blowing:
“In Sweden, which has the world’s lowest highway fatality rate for children under six, keeping children in rear-facing seats until age four or five is common practice. Swedish crash data reveal that, from 1999-2006, only four children under age four were killed on its roads.”

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