Child Car Seat Safety

  car crashMotor Vehicle collisions are the number one cause of death in Canadian children. If all children were correctly restrained in a car seat, the number would be much less.

Through the 1970s and 80s there was enough motor vehicle deaths and serious injuries that in 1985 the first child restraint law passed. It required children, under a certain age, to be secured in a car seat.

Before the law passed, car seats were designed for the parent’s convince, not child’s safety.

Seats kept them contained instead of crawling everywhere, while also giving children a boost to see out the windows.

Beginning of Car seats

In 1913, the first car seat was made. It hung over the back of the seat and was made of canvas. It wasn’t until 1968 that there was some design regarding the safety of the child in the event of a crash.

In the last 10 years car seat safety has been greatly improving, along with the amount of people using them properly. According to CPSAC, in a recent study 99% of children were restrained. However, 73% were installed or used incorrectly, 30% in booster seats did not meet the 40lbs requirement, and 52% using seatbelts did not fit safely and should have been using a booster seat.

Car seat safety is extremely important but can easily be over looked as the rules and regulations constantly change. There is also additional safety precautions that are not yet the law, but many people are unaware of the additional risks.

World’s Top Country in Car Seat Safety

Sweden was the first country to begin extended rear facing. Professor Bertil Aldman, of Chalmers University, in Gothenburg, Sweden was the first to design a rear facing car seat in the 1960s. He was inspired by the way seats were designed for astronauts. They pay extra attention to protecting their head, neck, and spine during take off and landing. The first seat hit the market in 1963. Since 1965 all Swedish children have been rear facing until 4-5 years old.

Sweden has the best child safety numbers (in terms of motor vehicle incidents) on the planet for decades. Norway is now following their lead and is coming in second for child safety, in and around cars. Sweden also has virtually 0 children die from traffic incidents each year. This is partially from car seat safety but also from their Vision Zero principles, which is a belief that no one, adult or child, should die from traffic incidents.

They use three different types of car seats.

 car seat types

Infant Rear Facing

The infant seats are the same as the US and Canada. It’s easy to carry and can be taken easily to and from the car without waking the baby.

Rear Facing Convertible

The rear facing convertible seats are the same as ours except they all choose seats that allow the extended rear facing 40+ lbs. Majority of them aim for 45-50lbs limits. Usually around 4-5 years old. They just don’t necessarily use the seat in forward facing.

High Back Boosters

These booster seats have a full back, head rest, and guides for the shoulder and lap belt to be held in place.

In Canada it is typically over 1 year of age and 20-22lbs when children are allowed to be turned to forward facing. It differs from province to province. On Driving.ca, they have a breakdown describing regulations in each province. Although the amount of children staying rear facing for longer is increasing.

Not a Law

Rear facing is not a rule, or law, in Sweden. It’s just from their knowledge of rear facing and how effective it is for their child’s safety that they decide to stay rear facing. Their government and media put out awareness campaigns with guidance from research they have conducted throughout their country. More parents in Sweden are happy to keep their child rear facing as that is what everyone else is doing. There is no one telling them their child is too old to rear face or constantly asking why they haven’t turned their child around to forward facing, like they would get in North America.

My child is 3 and is still rear facing. The older he gets the more questions or comments I get as to why I haven’t switched him to forward facing.

What Happens After Rear Facing

After Swedish children move from rear facing they typically skip the 5 point harness forward facing seats. After they max out in rear facing they move right into full back booster seats. This is usually around 4 or 5 years old, or 45-50lbs.

Their perception is older children who are harnessed absorb the collision forces in the head, neck and shoulders.

When the child is in a high back booster seat using a regular seat belt, their entire torso can move forward in a collision. This spreads the forces throughout the upper body rather than concentrating the forces in two of the most fragile areas of the body (head and neck).

In order for your child to be safe in a high back booster they need to be able to sit still in a regular seat belt.

This means not moving around/ leaning out of the seat belt, playing with the seat belt, unbuckling themselves or doing anything else unsafe.

This is something Swedish parents teach their children just like you would teach your children not to play in the streets.

Development of the Child’s Body

When a baby is born their head makes up 25% of their body weight. As they grow into adulthood the head becomes only 6% of body weight. Children’s bones are still very soft, this is what makes them a little more resilient than adults when they have little falls. It takes 15 years for the skeleton to fully develop. This development happens at the same rate for all children. So just because your 1 year old is in the 99th percentile does not make them any more safe to be forward facing than a 1 year old that is half their size.

The child’s spine does not fully develop until 6 years old. When a child is born each vertebrae is in 3 separate pieces, held together by cartilage. It is not until three years old that the vertebrae start fusing together. By the age of 6 they have fused together creating a ring around the spine.

RearFacingToddlers.com describes what happens to a toddlers body in the event of a crash while forward facing – “When they are involved in a car crash in a forward facing car seat, the weight of the head combined with the immature skeleton, can cause the spinal cord to stretch up to two inches. If it stretches just half an inch it will snap. This is known as internal decapitation and causes paralysis or death. 
A toddler’s ribs are also very soft. In a forward facing car seat the force of the crash throws the child forward while the five-point harness holds the torso back in the seat. This can bend the ribs and damage the child’s internal organs.”

Properly Restraining Your Child

The following two statistics are from Saferide4kids and are based on numbers from USA.

“Any where from 72% to 84% of child restraints show critical misuses. The most common forms of misuse are using the wrong seat for the child’s age and weight, loose safety belt attachment to the car seat and loose harness straps on the child.”

“In 2017 in the United States, 794 children ages 12 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes. Of all the children who died in a crash in 2017, 37% were not restrained.”

With all the information on car seat safety you would think these numbers would be lower. But too many people think they are above the law, or safety issues.

Common Arguments for Not Properly Restraining Children

“I’m a good driver, I won’t crash” – That’s great but what if someone else crashes into you.

“My truck is big, if I get in a crash I will be safer than the other vehicle.” – Unless you get into a crash with a dump truck, semi truck, or bus. Even if there isn’t much damage to your truck it doesn’t mean there wont be enough force to injure your young child if they are not properly restrained.

“If they are rear facing and you get in a crash won’t their legs be injured?” – Yes it’s a possibility but I would rather them have injured legs than be internally decapitated.

“They don’t like the straps to be to tight, they get upset when I tighten them all the way.” – This comes down to what is more important, your child’s safety or their preference. The straps do not need to be so tight they are squishing the child. But they do need to be tight enough that you cannot pinch the straps.

“I grew up without these fancy car seats and I survived.” – You may have, but were you in a serious car crash? There is a reason that the rules and regulations for safely, and correctly, restraining young children keep advancing. Too many young children are still dying or becoming seriously injured.

“They want to be forward facing, or not be in a booster, because their sibling/ friend is.” – Parents are the ones that are in control of their child’s safety. Just because your child’s friend, who may be bigger than them, is no longer in a booster does not mean that your child is big enough to go without it.

“It’s only a short drive, they will be fine.” – 52% of car accidents happen within 8km of their home, and 77% happen within 24 km or less.

“The law states…..” – Yes, you may be following correct laws. But, if your child could be safer and have less chance of getting injured, than why not?

How to Correctly Strap in Your Child

The straps should come out at or below shoulder height for rear facing, and at or above shoulder for forward facing.

Ensure the chest clip is buckled and at arm pit level.

When using a booster seat ensure the seat belt rests on middle of chest and shoulder. The lap belt should rest along thighs and not stomach. The seat belt should go under the seats armrest to buckle up.

carseat winter safety

Car Seat Safety in the Winter

One of the biggest safety concerns in the winter is when children are placed in their car seats with their bulky winter jackets on. This is just as dangerous as not properly restraining your child in their seat.

In the event of a crash, due to the forces, the bulky snowsuit or winter jacket will flatten out. This will leave a large gap between child and the back of the seat. A child slips through those loose straps and could be thrown from the car seat.

Instead of keeping them in their winter coat you can try some of these alternatives:

  • Keep a small blanket in the car to cover them with
  • Put their jacket on backwards once they have been strapped into their seat.
  • Start the car before putting children into car seats.
  • Put them in several thin layers
    • Undershirt
    • Long Johns
    • Long sleeve shirt
    • Well fitted sweater (big bulky sweaters should be removed)
    • Toque and mittens

There is a video on Today.com that shows what happens in the event of a crash while children are wearing winter jackets.

Some Car Seats That Allow Longest Extended Rear Facing

BrandWeight LimitsHeight Limits
Clek Foonf + Fllo50lbs44”
Cybex Eternis50lbs48”
Diono Raidian 3QXT50lbs44”
Evenflo Every State DLX50lbs48”
Graco Extend to fit50lbs49”
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Kinetic45lbs1” below top adjuster

Look for the Sticker of Approval

When purchasing a new car seat (in Canada) make sure that it has the Maple Leaf sticker of approval. Although it is very tempting to shop south of the border to save some money on a car seat, in most cases it is illegal to use in Canada.

Canada and USA have different safety standards and most car seats made for USA do not meet Canadian car seat guidelines.

No matter what country you live in and what your laws and regulations are, you are still able to make the decision to create a safer car ride for your child, as long as you are within the car seat requirements.


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