Do I Need To Use a Car Seat for My Child?

Posted on February 22, 2021

Any time you drive, everyone in your vehicle should have their seat belt on. If you have a child in the car, they should be in a car seat or a booster seat. 

The leading cause of death for children in Canada is preventable accidents, including car accidents. Properly securing them in the right car seat can help keep them safe every time you drive.

Just like car insurance, child car seats exist to protect you in the event of an accident. While insurance protects you financially, a car seat could save your child's life. The car seat regulations in Ontario are designed to keep your child safe at every stage of their growth. 

Below, we break these laws and regulations down to help you find the right car seats for your family.

Car Seat Regulations in Ontario

Child car seat and booster seat requirements in Ontario are governed by the Highway Safety Act, under the Seatbelt Assemblies section. Current versions of the regulations are available online, but they can be hard to understand.

In Ontario, all children under eight years old must be in a car seat of some kind, but there are numerous types of car seats to choose from. The seats built into your car are designed for fully grown adults. Different types of car seats exist to make these seats safe for children's bodies.

Each province has its own guidelines for what type of seat a child should use, but all of the guidelines are based on the child's age, weight, and height and must comply with national guidelines.

No matter what kind of child seat you're using, the safest place for it is always in the backseat of the car, away from the airbags.

Rear-Facing Car Seat Requirements

Infants must ride in a rear-facing car seat in Ontario. The law considers any child under 9kg (20 lbs) an infant. A rear-facing car seat offers extra protection for the baby's head and neck, which are particularly vulnerable.

This type of car seat usually comes with two pieces: a base that stays in the car and a separate seat portion that clips into the base during use. The seat portion has a harness to keep the child secure, while the base uses your car's seatbelt or a tether strap as an anchor.

Rear-facing seats keep the baby's head at a 45-degree angle, and a tight harness keeps the child from moving too much. During a crash, the seat will cocoon the child and distribute force away from their head. This also keeps the child safe from more than just accidents.

Sudden stops and the normal movement of a car can jostle small children who can't yet hold their heads up on their own. Rear-facing car seats minimize the movement, keeping the child safe.

Children should use rear-facing seats for as long as possible. The car seat manufacturer will specify the height and weight limits for a seat.

Even if a child weighs more than 9kg (20lbs), they may still be safest in a rear-facing seat. Manufacturers set these limits after rigorous testing for both maximum safety and compliance with Canadian regulations. 

Forward-Facing Car Seat Requirements

Children who weigh more than 9kg (20lbs) but less than 18kg (40 lbs) are considered toddlers and are eligible for forward-facing car seats. Before making the switch, you should check the manufacturer's guidelines for the seat.

When a child is eligible for both rear-facing and forward-facing seats, they should remain in the rear-facing seat until they have fully outgrown it. 

Forward-facing car seats are usually a single piece that stays in the car. Like a rear-facing car seat, forward-facing car seats have a built-in harness that restrains the child in the event of a crash. The seat itself is tethered to the car to keep it in place.

Unlike a rear-facing seat, forward-facing seats should be installed upright, not at an angle. Children using these seats should be able to support the weight of their own heads.  

Many car seats are designed for toddlers weighing up to 30 kg (65 lbs), which allows for shorter children who meet the weight requirements for a booster seat but not the height requirements. 

Booster Seat Requirements

The last type of car seat your child should use before graduating to a regular seat belt is a booster seat. Children need to weigh at least 18 kg (40 lbs) and be less than 145 cm (4 ft 9 in) tall to meet the booster seat requirements in Ontario.

Unlike rear-facing and forward-facing car seats, booster seats rely on your car's seatbelt to work. These seats boost your child up high enough in the seat for the belt to sit properly on their body--hence the name.

Booster seats must either have their own head support or lift the child up high enough to use the head support in the car. The booster must also utilize both a shoulder and lap belt. 

Like all car seats, booster seats have height and weight guidelines that can help you choose the right seat for your child. 

Taxicabs and Ride-Shares

Taxicabs (and other vehicles, such as ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars) are exempt from car seat regulations in Ontario.

If you plan to use a taxi or a rideshare car with a child under eight, you should consider bringing your car seat or booster seat with you. It may seem like a hassle, but it is the safest choice. 

When to Replace a Car Seat

As your child grows, you will need to replace your car seat according to the above guidelines. However, there are situations where you should replace the car seat even if your child hasn't outgrown it.

After an Accident

When a car seat is in an accident, it should be immediately replaced. Even if the seat wasn't hit directly, it might still be damaged. Some insurance plans with property damage coverage may even cover the cost of purchasing a new seat.

A car seat's job is to absorb force and direct it away from the child in the seat. The force of a crash can weaken or damage the seat, which reduces how effective it would be in any future collisions.

Buying a new car seat when your old one looks undamaged might seem absurd, but you can't always see the damage. Keeping your insurance premiums low can save you money to put towards a new car seat in the event of a crash. 

Product Recalls

Any time you purchase a new car seat, it's a good idea to register the purchase with the manufacturer. That way, they can easily reach you if there is a recall or safety notice.

The Canadian government also provides safety alerts related to child car seats and booster seats. These notices keep you up to date with ongoing investigations into safety defects, even if a recall hasn't been initiated yet.

If the car seat you are using gets recalled or has a known safety defect, you should replace the car seat immediately. 

Expiry Dates

A car seat will go through wear and tear during normal use. Even if it is never involved in an accident, a car seat still absorbs force during use. Over time, this can weaken the car seat.

Other factors can shorten the lifespan of a car seat. Drops, spills, sun exposure, and severe weather or temperatures can all contribute to a car set damage. Additionally, safety recommendations are improving all the time. 

Because of this, most manufacturers give car seats an expiry date even though it is not required by law. The date is usually printed on a label on the seat or in the user manual. 

You should replace a car seat on or before its expiry date.

Additional Regulations and Safety Tips

Child seat laws about the type of seat to use are only the first step in child vehicle safety. Understanding the proper way to select a seat and install it are also important. 

Used Seats

Buying a new car seat every time you need to replace one can quickly become expensive, so you may be tempted to buy a used one. However, using a pre-owned car seat carries risk.

Before purchasing a used car seat, you should be certain that it has never been in an accident, isn't expired, and has the National Safety Mark. You should get a full history of the seat and examine it for any abnormal wear and tear.

A used car seat is going to have a shorter life span than a new one as it will reach its expiry date faster. You may end up needing to replace it before your child outgrows it, which will end up being just as costly as buying a new one. 

It's also important to make sure the used car seat comes with all the necessary accessories and hardware to install it properly in your car. A car seat is only safe if it is installed properly.

Proper Installation

Proper installation is critical, no matter what kind of car seat you are using. Car seats are only effective when they're securely fastened to the car and in the right position.

All car seats should be installed in the backseat of the car whenever possible and never in a seat with airbags. Airbags are designed for adults and can seriously injure children.

Rear-facing and forward-facing car seats should be strapped into your vehicle directly. Correctly installed car seats won't move more than 2.5 cm (1 in) in any direction, whether or not a child is in them. 

Booster seats do not always anchor into the vehicle. Booster seats usually use the vehicle's seatbelt and the child's weight to hold the seat in place. Once the child is seated, you should adjust the seatbelt so that the shoulder strap lays against the center of the chest and the lap belt lays against the hips.

For every type of car seat, you should follow the installation instructions in the manufacturer's manual and check the installation of the seat before every use to make sure it hasn't shifted or come loose.

There are clinics in every province to help teach you how to install your car seat into your vehicle. You can contact the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care for information on these services in Ontario.

Seats From Other Countries

There are children and cars all over the world, and every country wants to keep their children safe, but not all safety standards are equal.

Car seats sold in Canada are proven to meet Canada's safety standards and are made to fit into Canadian vehicles. When you buy a car seat from abroad, it may be difficult to tell if it meets these standards.

Additionally, it may be harder to find out if a product sold in another country has a recall or safety defect notice. If something goes wrong with the seat, you could also lose the possibility of legal recourse. 

It is not technically illegal to use a car seat manufactured in another country, but it is a risk. Any seat purchase from another country must meet Canada's safety standards and bear the National Safety Mark if you wish to use it in Canada. 

Protect Your Family

You never want to be in a car accident. But if you are, you'll want to know you've done everything you can to keep yourself and your passengers safe.

Following the car seat regulations in Ontario can protect your children from bodily harm and your car insurance can protect you from financial harm. Insurdinary can help you find the right car insurance plan for you and your family.

Reach out to us today to get quotes from Canada's leading providers. 

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