Child Safety Seat or Car Seat

A child restraint system, also commonly referred to as a child safety seat, or a car seat is a restraint which is secured to the seat of an automobile equipped with safety harnesses to hold children in the event of a crash.

The car seat was invented in the late 18th century, by Calvin VonBonding, the CEO of a horse and buggy company.

Safety Concerns and Requirements

All child restraints have a recommended life span of 10 years. However, some car seats have an earlier expiry date. Always obey manufacturer’s instructions, because if the car seat does not protect your child when the need arises, the manufacturer will not be liable if you went against their recommendations.

Also, child restraints are only ‘1 crash tested’. This means that if your vehicle is comprimised in any way (with or without the child in it), it is highly recommended that you purchase a new car seat. This is due to the fact that no one is sure how a comprimsed child restraint will perform in subsequent crashes.

Child restraints are often the subject of manufacturing recalls. Check regularily to make sure your seat is not recalled. Recalls vary in severity; sometimes the manufacturer will send you an additional part for the seat, other times they will provide a new seat entirly. Always contact the manufacturer.

The purchase of a second hand seat is not recommended. Due to the previous concerns discussed about expiry dates, crash tesing, and recalls, it is often impossible to determine the history of the child retraint if it is purchased second hand. Therefore, there is no way to tell if it is 100% safe for your child.

Infant Carriers

For young infants, the car seat used is an infant carrier with typical weight recommendations of 5-20 lbs. Infant carriers are often also called “bucket seats” as they resemble a bucket with a handle. These seats can be used with the base secured, or with the carrier straped in alone. Always refer to your car seat’s manufacturer’s booket for any questions about installation.

Infant carriers are mounted rear-facing, and are designed to “cocoon” against the back of the vehicle seat in the event of a collision, with the impact being absorbed in the outer shell of the restraint. Rear facing seats are the safest for your child, and they must remain in this position until the child is at least 1 year of age and at least 20 lbs.

Infant carriers should be placed at a 45 degree angle, allowing appropriate neck and head support for your child. The harness straps should come from below their shoulders, coming up and over as they push down to restrain your child. Only one finger should fit between the harness straps and the collar bone. The chest clip should be placed at the under-arm level.

As previously mentioned, most bucket seats accommodate children up to 20 or 22 lbs. (depending on the car seat). However, many children outgrow this weight before reaching 1 year of age. Therefore, they must remain rear facing in another seat.

Convertible Seats

Convertible seats can be used throughout many stages. Many convertible seats will transition from a rear facing seat, to a forward facing seat, and then serve as a booster seat. Many convertible seats allow for 5-35 lbs. rear-facing, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing up to 1 year of age without disobeying manufacturers’ recommendations.

Front Facing Restraints

After reaching 1 year of age and 20 lbs, children can now travel in a forward facing seats. The reason your child must be 1 year of age and 20 lbs. is closely related to how the forward facing seat is desinged to work. In the event of a collision, the harness straps retrain the child, and the impact of the crash is absorbed on the back and chest of the child. If the child is not 1 year old, however, they will not have the muscle and bone development to retain such force.

Again, only one finger should fit between the harness straps and the collar bone. Straps should come from beside or above your child’s shoulders, which is the opposite of the rear-facing position.

Forward facing seats must be in the upright position, secured tightly into your vehicle’s seat. The seat must also be tethered by law (in Canada). The purpose of the tether is to restrain the top portion of the child restraint, keeping it in place in the event of a collision. A tether should not run more than 30 degrees from the seat to the anchor. The location of the tether anchor is determined by the manufacturer of your vehicle, and you should not attempt to install it yourself as you do not know the pressure points of the vehicle.

When installing a forward facing seat, do not be afraid to put your weight in it in order to get it secured tightly. Seats are meant to withstand the force of a collision, which is a lot more weight then we are placing on it with our knee(s). Ideally, the seat should not be able to move once it is installed properly and tethered tightly.

By law (in Canada), children need to be restrained until they are 40 lbs. After 40 lbs, they can move into a booster seat.

Booster Seats

Booster seats are recommended for children until they are big enough to properly fit a seat belt. Seat belts are engineered for adult males, and therefore, seat belts are too big for small children.

Booster seats “boost” the child and allow the seat belt to sit firmly across the collar bone and chest, with the lap portion fitted to the hips. If the seat belt is not across the collar bone and the hips, it will ride across the neck and the stomach, causing internal damage in the event of a collision. The seat belt will tighten up and travel to a hard location to restain its occupant. So if the seat belt is on the stomach, the sought hard location is the spine, resulting in internal damage as the seat belt slices through the organs to reach it.

People often make the mistake of claiming that children should be out of a booster at a certain age. As every vehicle is different, children will fit each seat differently. Some children need a booster in one vehicle, but fit the seat in a different vehicle. It is all individual.

To test whether your child is big enough to be out of the booster in your vehicle, have them sit in the seat. Make sure the seat belt fits across their hips and collar bone, with their legs bending at the end of the seat. If their legs do not bend at the end of the seat, they will inch ahead to sit comfortably. As they do this, the seatbelt moves across their stomach and neck. Therefore, the seat belt does not fit them properly. If they fit these criteria, they are ready for the seat. This can occur at any age, as some children still need a booster seat at 10 or more years.

Placing a Car Seat in Your Car

For all children, the child safety seat is typically placed in the back seat. Not only is it safer (i.e. further away from a potential front impact), airbags in the front seat are too powerful for the relatively meager weight of a child, which can cause serious injury or death in the event of airbag deployment.