Friday, June 27, 2014

Child safety seats: Protecting your precious cargo

Andrea Klassen
Andrea Klassen, Alberta Health Services Population Health Promotion Program

As we embark on summer road trips with our families, it’s important to remember the precious cargo we carry in our vehicles – our children. Proper use of child safety seats reduces the likelihood of your child being injured or killed in a vehicle collision by up to 75 per cent. In Alberta, the law requires that drivers ensure all passengers under the age of 16 are buckled and secured correctly in the vehicle.

Children under one year of age, less than 22 lbs and not walking should be using a rear-facing seat; it’s the safest way for them to travel. Some rear-facing seats can be used even if your child’s weight limit is more than 22 lbs. Harness straps in a rear-facing seat should be at or below shoulder level. And make sure the seat angle is appropriate by checking the angle gauge on the side of rear-facing seats.

When your child is at least one year old, 22 lbs and walking, you can move them to a forward-facing seat. The forward-facing seats should be used until your child is at least 40 lbs; some can be used even if your child’s weight is more than 40 lbs. Forward-facing seats should have a five-point harness system. Harness straps should be at or above shoulder level. The tether strap on the back (at the top of the safety seat) must be used to install the seat. If there is no tether anchor in your vehicle your vehicle dealership can be contacted to have an anchor installed.

When children no longer need a forward-facing seat, they are safest travelling in a booster seat. Before moving to a seatbelt, make sure your child is the proper size and weight. Children who weigh less than 80 lbs, are under nine years old or are shorter than four foot, nine inches tall should be using a booster seat.

To check if your child is ready for a seat belt, have your child sit in the back seat with their entire back flat against the seat and lap-shoulder belt buckled. Knees should bend comfortably at the edge of the seat, with the lap portion of the belt riding low across the hips and touching the top of your child’s legs. The shoulder portion of the belt should be crossing between your child’s neck and arm. Your child should be able to comfortably remain in this position for the entire trip. Children under 12 years old should not sit in the front seat and are safest in the back seat until they’re older.

Things to remember about child safety seats:
  • Never place your child’s safety seat in front of an airbag. Airbags deploy at 200-300 kilometres per hour. 
  • Ensure your child safety seat is Canadian-approved with a Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) label. Seats purchased in the United States are illegal to use in Canada. 
  • Your child safety seat must always be in the back seat of the vehicle. 
  • Your safety seat must not move more than one inch in either direction once properly installed. 
  • Harness straps should be fastened tightly and the chest clip should be at armpit level. 
  • Never use bulky padding, blankets or clothing that will interfere with the internal harness system. 
  • If a child safety seat has been in a collision, it MUST be replaced immediately, even if your child was not in the seat during the collision. 
  • Don’t buy seats second-hand or at garage sales because there’s no way of knowing if it’s been in a collision or stored properly. 
  • Expired seats are not safe to use. Make sure you know when your seat expires and replace it when it does. 

Andrea Klassen is a Health Promotion Facilitator with Alberta Health Services Population Health Promotion Program. She can be contacted at

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