Car Seats and Booster Seats

Motor vehicle collisions remain a leading cause of unintentional injury and death for Canadian children, youth and young adults1.

Drivers are responsible for all passengers under the age of 16. By Ontario law, infants and children must be buckled up in a car seat or booster seat made for their age, weight and height.

For a child to get the best protection from a car seat or booster seat:

  • it must be the right seat for the age, height and weight of the child
  • the child must be properly harnessed into the seat
  • the seat must be properly installed in the vehicle

Four stages of protection

There are four stages of protection. The right stage for a child depends on their age, weight, and height.

woman adjusting car seat 

Buying a car seat or booster seat

baby in car seat 

Stage 1: Rear-facing car seat

toddler in car seat 

Stage 2: Forward-facing car seat

boy in booster seat 

Stage 3: Booster seat

older child with seatbelt on 

Stage 4: Seatbelt

hand moving computer mouse 

Resources


Buying a car seat or booster seat

Before you buy

  • Look for the label with the maple leaf. The car seat or booster seat must be certified to Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
  • Check to ensure the car seat or booster seat has not passed the expiry or useful life date.
  • Choose the right car seat or booster seat based on the child's age, weight and height.
  • Buying a used car seat or booster seat is not recommended. Be careful if you are choosing a used car seat or booster seat.

After you buy

  • Always fill out and return the registration form that comes with the car seat or booster seat. It ensures the manufacturer can notify you of any safety notices or recalls.
  • Read your vehicle owner's manual for details on car seat and booster seat placement and installation.
  • Read your car seat or booster seat manual for details on installation and harnessing.

Stage 1: Rear-facing car seat 

In a rear-facing car seat, the child is facing the back of the vehicle.

Keep children rear-facing as long as possible to decrease the risk of head and spinal cord injuries.

There are two types of rear-facing car seats. This includes infant-only car seats and infant/child car seats.

A rear-facing car seat provides better protection for growing bodies than a forward-facing car seat. Do not rush a child out of this stage. It is okay for their feet to touch the back of the vehicle seat.

  • The harness:
    • is below the shoulders
    • is one finger tight at the collar bone 
    • has the chest clip at armpit level
    • lays flat and is snug
  • The seat:
    • is at a 45 degree angle
    • moves less than 2.5 cm (1 in) side to side or forward where belted

It is important to read and follow the car seat manual and vehicle owner's manual for proper installation and harnessing.

How to Install an Infant Rear-facing Car Seat


Stage 2: Forward-facing car seat

In a forward-facing car seat, the child is facing the front of the vehicle. A child must be at least 1 year old, 10 kg (22 lb) and can walk unassisted to be in a forward-facing car seat.

Do not rush a child into a forward-facing car seat.

Forward-facing car seats have a tether strap that must be fastened to the tether anchor in the vehicle. The tether strap limits how far the car seat will move in a sudden stop or crash.

  • The harness:
    • is above the shoulders
    • is one finger tight at the collar bone
    • has the chest clip at armpit level
    • lays flat and is snug
  • The seat:
    • the tether strap is attached to the tether anchor and is pulled tight
    • moves less than 2.5 cm (1 in) side to side or forward where belted

A child is safest in a forward-facing seat until they have outgrown the height or weight limits of their car seat.

It is important to read and follow the car seat manual and vehicle owner's manual for proper installation and harnessing.

How to Install a Toddler Forward-facing Car Seat


Stage 3: Booster seats

A booster seat raises the child up so that the vehicle lap and shoulder belts are positioned correctly on their body. A child must be at least 18 kg (40 lb) to sit in
a booster seat.

Do not rush a child into a booster seat.

A child is safest when they use a booster seat until they are tall enough for the lap and shoulder belts to be positioned correctly on their body without the booster seat. This usually happens when a child reaches 4 ft 9 in tall (145 cm).

  • The shoulder belt:
    • crosses the centre of the shoulder
    • crosses the centre of the chest
    • lays flat and is pulled snug
  • The lap belt:
    • rests on the upper legs (thigh)
    • does not ride up on the belly
    • is pulled snug

It is important to read and follow the booster seat manual and vehicle owner's manual for proper installation.

How to Install a Child Booster Seat


Stage 4: Seatbelts

It is best to keep a child in a booster seat as long as possible. If a child has outgrown their booster seat, you must check that the seat belt fits them correctly before switching to this stage.

The safest place in the car for children is always in the back seat.

Most cars have front seat air bags, and these can hurt children if the bags inflate during a crash or sudden stop. Children 12 years old and under should always be in the back seat.

  • The shoulder belt:
    • crosses the centre of the shoulder
    • crosses the centre of the chest
    • lays flat and is pulled snug
  • The lap belt:
    • rests on the upper legs (thigh)
    • does not ride up on the belly
    • is pulled snug

Check to make sure the child's back is against the back of the vehicle seat.

Check to make sure the child's knees hang over the seat, and their feet are on the floor.


Resources

Government of Canada - Buying a child car seat or booster seat

Keep Kids Safe - Stage 1: Rear-facing seats

Keep Kids Safe - Stage 2: Forward-facing seats

Keep Kids Safe - Stage 3: Booster seats

Keep Kids Safe - Stage 4: Seatbelts

Parachute Canada - Car seats

Government of Canada - Search recalls and safety alerts

References:

1Public Health Agency of Canada. Injury in Review, 2012 Edition: Spotlight on Road and Transport Safety. Ottawa, ON: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2012.

Last updated: December 22, 2016 

 

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