Since completing the Car Seat Safety Technician training last week, I have noticed an increase of photos uploaded to Facebook of children in seats inappropriate for their size, or not properly strapped into the correct seat. This is a topic I am very passionate about, and I am excited to help educate members of my community through car seat inspections and clinics. I believe that through these services the preventable deaths of children while riding in a vehicle can be avoided!
There is a delicate balance between spreading information, and education to parents and caregivers and making them feel like they are doing things wrong and should know better. It’s really about creating a great P.R. campaign. Many parents are so used to being judged and criticized constantly that they build defensive walls that are sometimes impossible to break through. Especially sad, when it comes to being informed about the safety of their children.
I have come across multiple articles and blogs written on the topic of car seat safety, and to be honest, I’m disappointed. I don’t believe in most situations, parent’s intentionally choose to put their children in danger. They don’t want to harm their kids, but by not having the correct tools, and information are potentially doing just that. It seems as though some of these posts accuse parents and caregivers of being purposefully neglectful. I don’t believe this is the case, or that in doing so, you will achieve your goal of education! You win far more bees with honey than vinegar. So let’s make our best attempt at spreading the honey! On toast… mmm honey toast. I think I need breakfast!
Now in the spirit of education, here are my Top 10 Things to Know:
1. It’s Important To Read Both Your Car Seat Manual, and Vehicle User Manual:
I’m sure you know as well as me that there are hundreds of different makes and models of car seats, in addition to thousands of makes and models of vehicles. It’s important to note that installation in one vehicle may be a totally different ball game with the same seat in another.
Hubby Bumpkin and I spent a very long, and very frustrating time trying to install our Nephew’s car seat into the back center seat of my ’08 Honda Civic. We were using the UAS (universal anchorage system) and could not get the seat in tight enough. It just didn’t seem to be working. After many frustrating minutes (I’m really talking close to an hour) and frayed nerves, we discovered, by reading the vehicle user manual, that there were no anchors in the middle position. We had been trying to install the seat by ‘borrowing’ the inside anchor from each outboard seat. Thanks to these instructions, we opted to instead use the seatbelt to lock the seat in place. Over all a much simpler method in that situation. I just wish we could have saved ourselves the marriage testing arguments in the mean time! *** Keep your car seat manual in your vehicle!*** Unless you are moving the seat to different vehicles regularly I suggest keeping it with your vehicle manual in the glovebox. Many seats also have a convenient space built into the seat to hold this, just make sure you have easy access to it when the seat is installed in your car!
2. Know the Laws
Ok I will be 100% honest, the laws in the Province that I live in S.U.C.K.. They are pitiful and rather embarrassing. So much so that during my certification course we were given the instruction to not inform parents and caregivers of what the laws currently are, but to share with them information of what the laws hopefully will be changed to in the near future. There are however some laws that are still broken, and although not regularly enforced if caught you can face a fine of just under $300. I won’t lie. I’ve had speeding tickets that cost me more than that. Keep in mind though, that if you have more than one seat in your car found to be in violation of the law, the fine is multiplied. Here in Manitoba, we hope to see the laws increased that all children under 4’9″ and 80lbs (roughly 8 or 9 years old) must be restrained in an appropriate seat at all times while riding in a vehicle. Where this may be tricky is that if a child stops riding in a booster seat at the age of 5, because legally they may do so now, they will have a much harder time going back to riding in a booster until they hit the minimum requirement set with the new law. It is also illegal to use a car seat or booster seat in Canada that does not have a National Safety Mark from Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). Car seats for use in Canada can not be purchased across the border.
3. Find the appropriate seat for your child.
Most parents leave the hospital proudly carrying their squishy new infant in the infant or bucket seat that clicks into a securely installed base in their car, and drive off into the sunset….. This is an example of using an appropriate seat! Yay! Did you know it’s also ok to put the newborn into a properly secured rear facing convertible seat as well? Totally appropriate! The point is, infants should always be rear facing! When they reach a minimum age of 1 years old, minimum weight of 22lbs, AND are also walking independently, they are able to be turned forward facing. Infant/bucket car seats are never to be turned forward facing. You would need a new seat at this time.
Once your child is a minimum weight of 40 lbs and aprox. 4 years old, they can be placed in a booster seat. The most important milestone should be if your child properly fits the car’s seatbelt. It should sit flat across their hips (not their belly) and chest/shoulder. If it looks uncomfortable (ie. cutting into their neck, or sliding off the shoulder) it doesn’t fit properly.
If your child does not meet all of these minimum requirements, they are not in an appropriate seat for their age/size and could be at risk of serious injury or death in an accident.
4. Go For the Max!
Above are the minimum requirements for advancing your child through the car seat stages. It can be very tempting to want to rush a child into the next stage, have them grow up a little faster, move on a little earlier, when it comes to the safety of children, I know for my baby, I want the maximum, not the minimum. Each car seat comes with a maximum weight and height limit (printed usually on the seat itself, as well as in that handy dandy manual!). It is important to follow these instructions, and to not use a seat your child has outgrown. It is recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society to keep children rear facing until at least the age of two. I’m not going to go into all of the reasons why, those are easy enough to find on their website, but if you have any questions please just ask! I can link you to many great articles and facts as to why it is safer!
The same goes for forward facing. I am planning on keeping my child harnessed in a forward facing seat until they reach the maximum height or weight for that seat as well. For all of the safety reasons given by reputable sources, as well as to simply force my child to stay still and in one spot! How many other places do you get this opportunity with your 3 1/2 or 4 year old? Really! Take advantage people!
Notice that I didn’t even mention the minimum for when your child can sit on the seat with only a seatbelt. That was on purpose. My recommendation is that this does not happen until your child is 9 years old, at least 4’9″, and 80lbs. Ideally your child stays in a booster until the seatbelt fits them properly, and they are mature enough to remain still for the length of the entire car ride.
5. Getting the Proper Seat Install:
Choosing the right seat is fairly easy. Getting it securely into your vehicle can be another story! I mentioned before that there can be options on how to get your seat installed. So long as you follow both your vehicle user guide and your car seat manual both the seatbelt, or UAS straps are equally as safe to secure a seat. Some seats, and some cars just aren’t compatible. It is best to find a retailer that will allow you to try out a few seats in your vehicle before purchasing the one that works best for you. Likewise, some seats just will not install properly in certain positions. In some cases the centre rear seat is not the safest spot for the car seat. For example a rear facing car seat should not be installed infront of a seat with a hidden cup holder/arm rest compartment. In this case it is safer to use an outboard seat if you can get the seat tightly installed there. Besides, what do you do when you are transporting multiple children? My recommendation is to go with what is safe and what works. Avoiding the front seat at all costs.
All forward facing seats in Canada MUST be tethered at the top. Check your vehicle manual for instructions on where the top tether anchor is, all vehicles are different. Some vehicles only have tether anchors for specific seats, contact your vehicle dealership to have one installed if need be. Never ‘double up’ by tethering 2 seats on 1 anchor!
Factor in the angle of your seat, and the angle required for your child. Rear facing infant seats should be on a 45 degree angle. Forward facing seats, 90 degrees. 80% of the car seat base should be in contact with the seat when installed. That is sometimes easier said than done. To achieve the proper angle it is acceptable to use a rolled up towel, or up to a max. of 3 pool noodles taped together placed in the seat bite (where the bottom meets the back of the vehicle’s seat).
The allowable movement at the belt path of your seat (where the base gets strapped in) is less than 1 inch in any direction. I’d personally say less than that, you should be able to get it within 1/2 an inch no problem! It’s ok to ask for help. I have Hubby Bumpkin install our nephew’s seat, and when we install Baby Bumpkin’s seat, he’ll be using his sexy man muscles to do that as well! You can also always go to a fire hall or police department with certified techs (Look up on their website, in the closest major city to us, only certain fire halls have techs on staff) or a clinic where volunteers can help you.
6. Buckle up! It’s for safety!
Car seat safety is really a 2 part system. Getting your seat securely installed into your vehicle is only half the battle, and honestly the simpler half, the older your child becomes!
For a rear facing child the shoulder straps must be at or below shoulder level. Like a pair of over-alls. When forward facing the shoulder straps need to be at or above the shoulders of your child. And regardless of direction, the shoulder straps should fit snugly, only 1 finger should fit under the straps at the collar bone. The chest clip should sit between nipple and armpit level, and baby’s bum should be against the back of the seat at all times.
When using the booster seat or once graduated to just using the seat, the seatbelt should sit low across their hips, and across their chest and shoulder, not cutting into their neck.
7. Stay Warm Without a Coat!
Telling parents smack dab in the middle of the Canadian Prairies that their children shouldn’t wear puffy coats or snow suits while in the car, is like telling them to stick their kid on the porch barefoot in a blizzard! You just wouldn’t subject your child to the harsh (and I mean HARSH) elements like that!
Turns out though, that it’s really not safe for children to be wearing bulky items or clothing while strapped into a car seat. In all fairness, neither should we. You’ve probably seen this video before, but it’s worth the review as to why coats aren’t safe:
I actually put this to the test with my nephew, on a really cold day this winter (roughly -40 with the windchill) I bundled him up with a polar fleece sweater, touque, mittens and boots. My car was sitting ‘unprotected’ outside, so I wrapped him up in a blanket, and pulled his coat over his shoulders, carrying him to the car like that. In the time that it took me to properly buckle him in (with the door open) and cover him with is coat (put on backwards, I tucked the hood inside to keep it off his face) and snuggle him in with the blanket on top, he never made a peep! He was perfectly warm the whole time! I was willing to sacrifice his temporary comfort of warmth, for his safety in my car, but to my surprise discovered that I didn’t have to give anything up, he was safe and comfortable the whole time!
I know that there will always be nay-sayers to this safety rule, but when presented with some really do-able solutions I feel that many parents would be more open to giving this a try, and discovering for themselves how simple it is!
-If possible, park in a garage, or covered shelter
-If possible, start the car and give it a chance to heat up inside, before getting in
-Have your child put on their coat, once in the vehicle quickly take it off, buckle them in, and then place their coat on backwards over top of the straps.
-Keep a pile of warm blankets handy to cover up your kiddos while in the car
-Polar fleece is just as warm as a winter coat, (without the wind protection) This is a safe solution to wear in the car
-Bundle up all extremities 🙂 Mitts, touques, boots, etc are always a good idea!
-Child size “Snuggies” are great for covering up in the car!
8. No After Market Products.
After market products are anything that didn’t come in the box, or sold to you directly from the car seat manufacturer. Most commonly here in the Great White North (she says with shame and sadness at the end of April) are Bunting Bags.
They are hard to resist because they offer baby a nice cozy looking way to stay warm. Especially with squishy new humans, it is important to keep them toasty warm in the car! These however are not safe. They have not been crash tested, and nothing should ever be put between the back of the seat and baby, or baby and the straps. ***As an alternative, the winter covers that stretch over the top and bottom of the shell only would be considered much safer, and are really just as good at insulating and keeping bebe warm!
Toys, Mirrors, Window Sun Shades etc are all examples of products that people attach to their car seat or vehicle that are not tested for safety during a crash. During an accident any of these things can come loose and injure you or your child. Your car should be free of all clutter, even a box of kleenex in the rear window can become a projectile causing serious harm if it were to hit a passenger. Keep cargo where cargo belongs. In the trunk, or in the ‘cargo’ area of your van, truck or SUV.
9. Safe Seat Positioning
As part of the course I took to become a Car Seat Safety Technician, we learned all about the ‘safest place for baby’. Interestingly enough there isn’t one solid answer, because like mentioned before, every vehicle is different!
Based on this diagram, the rear center seat in the vehicle is statistically safest. In a best case scenario, you would place your smallest, or most vulnerable passenger in that seat. For a number of reasons however this may not be the best position for that child. As already mentioned for example, if that seat has a pull down cup holder/storage compartment or arm rest, a rear facing seat should not be placed here. If the curve of the seat prevents you from tightly installing any seat, an outboard (side seat) may be safer. If you have more than one child, or more than one car seat installed, sometimes it will not fit side by side, and in this case both would be safer installed correctly on the sides. Also Booster seats can only be used with lap/shoulder belts, and in some older vehicles the rear centre seat only has a lap belt. These children would also need to be moved to a side position.
For forward facing car seats, the top tether must be used, if any seat does not happen to have an anchor for that position, you must move the seat to a location that does. When transporting multiple children, arranging their seats in such a way that they are all properly secured is the most important thing.
For owners of a regular cab truck, or any vehicle with no option of a back seat install. I would highly recommend you find another vehicle to transport your children. Having any child under the age of 12 in the front seat of your vehicle is putting them at a greater risk of injury or death if you were to be in an accident.
This was probably my favorite part of the course. We were given multiple scenarios where “mom and a friend and transporting 4 children” they’d go on the explain the ages, and types of seat each child was in and the vehicle specs. like seat belts, air bags etc. We had to arrange the children in the best possible seating. Is it sick for me to think that was a lot of fun?
10. Drive Safe!
So this seems like such a no brainer, right? It’s like, “come on lady, this isn’t a car seat tip”. You are right, it’s not. However 85% of crashes or collisions are caused by driver error. 10% are caused by road conditions, and 5% vehicle malfunctions. There is really not much we can do about vehicle malfunctions, so let’s take a second and focus on the other 95% of crashes. Car seats are meant to give children the best chance in a collision or crash, if we as the driver of the vehicle they are in take some extra precautions we can help increase their safety as well!
First things first, give yourself some room. In many smaller cars a rear facing car seat can come close to or touch the driver or front passenger’s seats. It is ok for them to touch, but not to put pressure on. The driver should still be able to sit back comfortably away from the steering column with their arms bent slightly. If this is not possible, look into moving that car seat to another position, or finding a car seat that is more compatible in your vehicle.
Drive for the conditions, 10% of crashes can be attributed to poor road conditions. Slow down, drive carefully, give yourself plenty of extra time. There is nowhere you need to be that is worth having an accident over getting there on time.
Limit distractions. Easier said than done. I’m not even a mommy yet and I know how next to impossible this is with kids in the car. Turning around to check on your baby, cell phones (illegal to use while driving in many states and provinces, including mine) even things like eating, drinking (non alcoholic beverages of course), touching up makeup etc are all dangerous, and can take your focus away from the road. Again either take care of these things before you leave, or once you’ve arrived at your destination! If something needs your immediate attention, pull over in a safe location.
I hope that these tips have helped spread awareness. It is never my intention to make anyone feel bad about the choices that they make. These are honestly all areas that I have made mistakes, in years of being a nanny I transported so many children using unsafe practices, and now that I have looked into it, I wish I had of known then what I know now. I feel very lucky I was never involved in a collision, and no injuries were ever sustained. I hope that by sharing this information with you, it may spark an interest or passion in car seat safety, and if this is something you already are aware of, that I can encourage you to keep educating those we love, in kind and gentle ways!
Below are some fantastic links for Canadian parent’s and caregivers to check out, and really no matter where you live the information is great for everyone!
Please if you have any questions, or are ever in doubt, do not hesitate to ask me questions! Also I would encourage you to seek out a local Car Seat Technician, for an inspection, even if you know what you’re doing, the worst that can happen is they tell you how amazing you are! They are a fountain of information and can answer any questions you have in person!
Please pass this post on to your friends and family, you never know who may be interested, or who may need this information to protect their own kids, or the kids they love in the car!