Booster seat safety 101

Booster seat safety 101

Photography by © Image by: Photography by © Author: Canadian Living


Booster seat safety 101

Having a newborn quickly requires learning how to use an appropriate car seat. Adjustments to the car seat are made as the baby grows into an infant and then a toddler. But what happens when your child outgrows his or her car seat? Do you know when and how you should use a booster seat?

New research from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has found that one in three children under the age of 16 “were incorrectly restrained in the car.” Of that group of children, the study found that “safety errors are highest in children aged 4 to 7 years” and that booster seats, specifically, are often the apparatus that is most used inaccurately.

Safety first
Health Canada reports that one of the leading causes of death for children and youth is motor vehicle injuries. Using a booster seat when your child outgrows his or her car seat is an essential part of keeping kids safe when they are passengers in a car.

Some provinces and territories legislate the use of a booster seat until the child reaches a certain height and weight, though others, such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and the North Western Territories do not.

This, “despite the fact that children needing an interim booster seat to protect them in a motor vehicle accident is evidence based,” says Kristen Gane, the program manager of injury prevention programs at Parachute Canada, a charitable organization dedicated to injury prevention.

Children are “three times more likely to be seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident when not in a booster seat,” says Gane. In fact, “30 per cent of Canadian children under four foot, nine inches are not using booster seats, which leaves an estimated 1.8 million Canadian kids unprotected,” she adds.

Proper booster seat use
To ensure that you properly transition your child from a car seat to a booster seat, there are a few things to keep in mind.

For one, “parents expect that installing a booster seat will be more complicated than it is, but a booster seat is aptly named. It raises the height of a child in the seat so that the lap and shoulder belts can properly hold the child in the correct place,” says Gane.

Using a booster seat is very simple, she explains, and this simplicity “sometimes leads to the misunderstanding that it is not necessary.”
But this is definitely not the case. The correct use of a booster seat can protect a child from severe spinal fracture, as well as severe brain and head injuries, which can occur in a motor vehicle accident if a child is not tall enough to safely use the car’s seatbelt, says Gane.

The first thing to do to properly install the booster seat is to read the manufacturer’s guide, as different models may have specific requirements. Seatbelts are designed for adult bodies, says Gane, and children need the booster seat so that they are aligned with the seatbelt properly.

“The lap belt needs to be lower on the hips and the shoulder belt should be resting mid-shoulder, between the shoulder and neck, not on the neck of the child,” says Gane. Essentially, using a booster seat is about ensuring that the lap and shoulder belts are resting on the proper places on the child’s body.

Furthermore, the booster seat should be placed in the backseat of the car, says Gane, who notes that the backseat is safer for vulnerable passengers. She warns against placing the shoulder belt behind the child, as a “booster seat is not engineered to be used that way. In a collision, putting the shoulder belt behind the child increases the risk of spinal injury,” she explains.

Finally, Gane reminds parents that “often a child should still be in a forward-facing car seat – don’t rush to transition to a booster.” When a child outgrows his or her car seat model, you may need to purchase a different car seat before a booster seat, depending on your child’s height and weight. “If the shoulder belt isn’t positioning correctly with the booster, try another car seat,” suggests Gane.

Here are some resource guides to help you install and use a booster seat properly.

Transport Canada offers a guide on how to properly install a booster seat and affix the seatbelt when the child is in a booster seat, and also explains when it is time to move the child to seatbelt-only car travel.

Parachute Canada offers safety information about car seats.


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Booster seat safety 101