Understanding the 4 Stages of Car Seats

Photography from iStockphoto.com

When my eldest child was about a year old, I remember looking in the rearview mirror to see her standing up in her forward-facing car seat. I immediately pulled over and sat her back down. She had one of those car seats with the big arm thing that came down over her head and had the buckle attached to it. A three-point harness. The next day I picked up a seat with a five-point harness and made sure the buckles were kid-proof. I’m thankful that my daughter’s standing episode happened on a small-town street, rather than a highway.

I did some cleaning to our van the other day and when I was reinstalling the car seats, I reinstalled the baby seats rear-facing, even though both boys (I babysit a little boy my son’s age) are right around their first birthdays. To be honest, I did this more out of convenience because that way they face the girls in the back seat and they all entertain each other. What are the rules, though? How long do they have to be rear-facing?

Car seats and the rules surrounding them have changed a lot since my eldest was a baby, and I’m sure they’ll change again by the time my younger son is her age. Below are the standards according to Transport Canada’s website.

STAGE 1: REAR-FACING INFANT SEAT

Many rear-facing infant seats are part of a bucket carrier and base combination, which allows parents to permanently install a base in the car, but  remove and install the seat with the baby still in it.

• Check your car seat for specific height/weight limits as well as your provincial/territorial laws
• Keep your child rear-facing until he or she grows out of the seat
• The car seat must be installed in the back seat of your vehicle
• Must be at a 45 degree angle
• The car seat should not move more than one inch in any direction (besides the top of the seat, which is supposed to move)
• Make sure there is at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) of space between the top of your child’s head and the top of the car seat
• Make sure the chest clip is at your child’s armpit level and closed properly
• When buckled, the strap should be snug, but you should be able to slip one finger between the strap and your child’s collarbone

STAGE 2: CONVERTIBLE AND/OR FORWARD-FACING CAR SEAT

Once children have grown out of their infant seat, they can move into a larger car seat like the one pictured at the top of this article. Many manufacturers now produce convertible seats, which allow your child to sit rear-facing for a longer time period, before turning forward later. (Most experts now recommend children face backward until they outgrow that position).

• Check your car seat for specific height/weight limits as well as your provincial/territorial laws
• The car seat must be in the back seat of your vehicle
• Make sure the seat does not move more than one inch in any direction, even the top of the seat, which should be tethered down
• The middle of your child’s ear should not be above the top of the car seat
• The chest clip should be at your child’s armpit level and be closed properly
• Keep your child in the forward-facing car seat until he or she grows out of it
• When buckled, the strap should be snug, but you should be able to slip one finger between the strap and your child’s collarbone

STAGE 3: BOOSTER SEAT

Booster seats, designed to work with lap-and-shoulder combination seat belts, raise the child up so that adult seat belts work effectively. Never use just a lap belt with a booster seat.

• Check your car seat for specific height/weight limits as well as your provincial/territorial laws
• If the booster seat has a seat back, the top should not be lower than the middle of your child’s ears
• If there is a seat belt guide, it should be at or above your child’s shoulders
• The shoulder component of the seatbelt should rest on your child’s shoulder, not on his or her neck or arm or behind his or her arm
• The lap component of the seatbelt should be on your child’s hips, not on his or her stomach
• Booster seats are designed for use in the back seat of vehicles

STAGE 4: SEAT BELT

• Your child is ready to be without a booster seat when he or she can sit with his or her back against the seat and have his or her legs hang over the front of the seat without slouching
• The shoulder belt should rest on the shoulder, not the stomach or neck
• The lap belt should be on your child’s hips, not his or her stomach
• Kids under 13 years of age are safest travelling in the backseat

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