Healthy lifestyles Injury prevention Child safety Car seat safety

Car seat safety

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury in young children. A properly used child restraint can prevent up to 75% of these deaths and injuries. – Infant and Toddler Safety Association

Ensuring a car seat is properly installed is crucial to a child's safety. But, car seat safety extends beyond just a properly installed car seat. Car seats are not one-size-fits-all. Making sure a child is in the right sized car seat is equally important to their safety.

The rules

Parents and guardians must use car seats bought in Canada. Car seats purchased in other countries, including the United States, do not meet Canada's high car seat safety standards, and are not legal to use in Canada.

By law, children under the age of eight must be restrained in an appropriate child restraint system - car seat or booster seat - based on their weight and height. If a child eight or older does not meet the criteria to safely use a seat belt, they should remain in a booster seat.

Transport Canada recommends that all children under 12 years of age sit in the back seat. Most cars have front seat airbags that can injure small children if the bags inflate during a crash or sudden stop.

The penalties

Drivers can be fined $240 and lose two demerit points for every child who is not in an appropriate restraint system or whose seat is not properly installed.

Car seat installation

Car seats make travel on roads safer for children. Properly installed car seats keep children in place and offer increased protection during a crash or sudden vehicle stop. But, according to a Canadian Paedeatric Society study, car seats are being used or installed incorrectly anywhere from 41% - 81% of the time. Not using the correct seat for the weight and/or height of the child is the most prevalent form of misuse. Thereafter, the three following errors are most common:

  • Car seat is not secured tightly enough in the vehicle
  • Harness is not snug enough on the child
  • Chest clip is not level with the child's armpits

As of January 2018, Oxford County Public Health does not conduct car seat safety clinics or checks.

To learn how to properly install a child car seat or booster seat, view the Ministry of Transportation's safe installation videos below that tackle installation for each car seat stage.

Remember to always read the manufacturer's instructions and the child restraint section in your car owner's manual. 

Stage 1: Rear-facing car seats

How to install an infant rear-facing car seat:

It is safer to keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible. Transport Canada's Stage 1: Rear-facing seats page provides more information, tips and guidelines on rear-facing seats.

Stage 2: Forward-facing car seats 

How to install a toddler foward-facing car seat:

Transport Canada's Stage 2: Forward-facing seats page provides more information, tips and guidelines on forward-facing car seats.

Stage 3: Booster seats

How to install a child booster seat:

Transport Canada's Stage 3: Booster seats page provides more imformation, tips and guidelines on child booster seats.

Stage 4: Seatbelts

Don't hurry to transition your child from a booster seat to using only a seat belt. It is best for a child to continue using a booster seat for as long as possible. To learn how to tell if a child is ready to use only a seat belt, and to learn how to buckle up a child properly, visit Transport Canada's Stage 4: Seat belts page.

Looking for a car seat clinic?

Check Transport Canada's list of Ontario car seat clinics.

Product recalls

Health Canada is the best, most reliable source for information on recalls and safety alerts.

Additional resources