The statistics are sobering.
According to Transport Canada, approximately 7,000 children are hurt or killed in motor vehicle accidents annually. It’s estimated that the proper use of child restraints can reduce the likelihood of tragedy by nearly 70 percent. Yet despite increased education and awareness efforts, most children are still in car seats that are not correctly installed.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Al Blundell, the Unit Chief of St. John Ambulance Youth Leadership Unit of Peel, about child car seat safety, changing requirements, and the current laws and recommendations in Ontario.
DEBBIE TROTTIER: St. John Ambulance runs workshops to assist parents and caregivers in installing child car seats. In your experience, how many car seats are correctly installed?
AL BLUNDELL: Sadly, the numbers haven’t changed that much over the years. We still see eight to nine out of ten car seats improperly installed.
DT: Those numbers are staggering. Why are they so high in your opinion?
AB: There are two main challenges. The first is that the manufacturer instructions are often unclear. The second is that instructions should ideally be written to have more than one person install the seat. It really is a two person operation. One person is needed to put extra weight on the seat while the other person tightens the seat belt.
DT: There seems to be conflicting information as to when a child should transition from each stage, i.e. from a rear-facing car seat to forward-facing, to a booster, etc.
AB: The requirements do frequently change but I believe the source of the confusion comes from the information in the Highway Traffic Act sometimes differing from that provided by Transport Canada.* It is important to keep in mind that the Highway Traffic Act deals with laws regarding seat belts and child restraint systems in vehicles. Transport Canada, however, recommends safety practices. They do not legislate.
DT: Can you review for us the current laws and recommendations regarding child car seats? Let’s start with when a child should be moved from a rear-facing to a forward-facing position.
AB: It’s tied to the development of the child. The child must be able to pull themselves to a standing position, is at least twelve months old and is a minimum of twenty pounds. It is recommended that all three criteria are met; however the Highway Traffic Act only states that the child be a minimum of twenty pounds. Parents should know that as long as the child is within the manufacturer’s height and weight range for the seat, it’s best to keep them rear-facing. That is the safest position for them in the event of a collision.
DT: When is a child ready for a booster seat?
AB: The child should be at least forty pounds. But again, the longer a child is kept in a car seat, provided they are still within the manufacturer’s height and weight range, the safer it is for the child.
DT: How about transitioning the child to a seat belt? What should a parent or caregiver look for?
AB: Both the Highway Traffic Act and Transport Canada state that the child must be at least 4’9” or eighty pounds.
DT: I have two daughters and I can tell you it is a point of pride for them to finally be old enough to sit in the front passenger seat. When is it safe to do so?
AB: The key is the safe placement of a child with respect to the front air bag. Kids slouch and move around. If the front air bag is deployed in a collision, small children can get hurt if they aren’t correctly positioned. For this reason, the safest place for children twelve and under is in the backseat.
DT: If parents need help installing a car seat or want to have it inspected to ensure it meets the requirements, where can they go?
AB: St. John Ambulance runs workshops to help with installation. Check our website for dates. https://sjapeel.ca/carseatteam. There are certified technicians that can provide assistance as well. The Transport Canada site has a listing. http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/motorvehiclesafety/safedrivers-childsafety-seat-clinics-1058.htm
Al Blundell, along with many other St. John Ambulance volunteers, generously donates his time and expertise at workshops to help keep children safe on our roads.
For more information on child car seats, visit the sites below.
Ministry of Transportation Ontario