Parents need to do a better job of buckling in their children.

It’s been decades since the use of child safety seats became law in Canada. In fact, Ontario first passed those laws 40 years ago! And while most parents understand the importance of these safety devices, recent inspections indicate that guidance is still needed on how to properly use them.

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, about 80 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly.[1] The most common mistakes included not securing the seat tightly to the vehicle, not tightening the seat’s harness properly, and not positioning the chest clip at armpit level.

These mistakes can literally be fatal, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)[2] reports that properly installed child safety seats reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for infants younger than 1 year old and by 54 percent for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years. The NHTSA also reports that while 96 percent of parents believe that they have correctly installed their car seat, research shows that only three out of every 10 children are properly restrained.

Steps to proper installation

So, what can you do to make sure you are using your car seat correctly? In addition to choosing a seat that properly fits your vehicle and carefully reading and following the manufacturer’s instructions, Transport Canada offers these tips for car seat installation:

  • Check the label on your car seat to make sure it is age- and size-appropriate for your child.
  • Always place a car seat in the backseat of a vehicle. Children should remain in the backseat until age 13.
  • Keep children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible – at least until age one, but preferably until they reach the height or weight limits of the seat – before moving them to a forward-facing seat.
  • Once you have installed the car seat, give it a shake from its base. A properly-installed car seat shouldn’t move more than one inch in any direction.
  • After placing the harness around your child, make sure that it is tight and that the straps are coming through the proper slots. The harness is tight enough and the chest clip properly placed if you cannot pinch any extra webbing at your child’s shoulder.

For added assurance, parents can discuss and examine their installation with a certified technician at a car seat inspection station. Most communities host such stations periodically at places such as car dealerships or store parking lots.

To find a station near you, check the Transport Canada website or call your local police or fire department’s non-emergency number, local hospital or highway safety office.

Moving beyond the car seat

Once a child graduates from a car seat, the proper use of safety devices remains important, as motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death for children in the United States and Canada.

That’s why children in Canada are required to use a booster seat until they are at least 8 years old, or until they reach a height of 57 inches. Booster seats work by raising your child so that the shoulder belt fits properly across the hips and chest. A properly fitting belt rests on the upper thighs and chest, not the belly and neck. For older children and adults, the use of a seat belt cuts the risk of serious injury in half.

In the case of motor vehicle accidents, an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure. 


[1] Transportation of Infants and Children in Mortor Vehicles, Canadian Paediatric Society

[2] Car Seat Recommendations for Children, NHTSA