Baby on board. image from here
First, for any of you who are wondering “Do car seats even make a difference?”, consider these statistics:
- Of the 248,000 US kids that were injured in auto accidents, 1,668 children died and most of those were not properly restrained. Car seats could have prevented many of their deaths.
- 75% of these car accidents happened within 30 km from home, and 60% of them happened on streets where the speed limit is 40km/hr or less.
So then - we know we need them. But how do we choose the right car seat, especially when budget is an issue?
A. You can get a used one.
If you choose this option, no matter if it's from a friend or from a stranger, have them check the expiry date on the car seat and also check if there has been a recall on the brand and model. Also note that requirements changed on Jan 1, 2012 so any car seats sold before that are not considered safe to resell or pass down - see more in this Transport Canada explanation
B. You can buy a new one.
All car seats currently on the market do meet the government’s stringent safety standards, so any car seat you buy new is technically safe. However, there are three important things to remember: 1) it must fit your child, 2) it must fit your car and 3) it must be installed and used correctly.
- Child fit: Your child’s age matters - less than 2 must face the rear of the car, because even if they are tall and heavy enough for a forward seat, their spine is not. Then look at height and weight independently - if they are too tall for the car seat, which is a common problem, it’s not safe. So how would you know BEFORE you buy? Check growth charts online. Also keep in mind parents’ height – if both parents are taller than average assume that your child will be at the 100th percentile for their age - which for a 2 year-old boy can be as tall as 100 cm.
- Car fit: Many of the deluxe models of car seats simply don’t fit a smaller car. They either don’t fit the angle of the backseats or they leave no head or leg room for the child.
- Easily adjustable car seat seatbelt/ harness: The biggest issue with car seat safety (once correctly installed of course) is actual correct use of the five point harness. It’s easier to accomplish this when you buy a car seat whose straps can be easily adjustable from the front (without uninstalling the car seat to reach behind). Imagine a fall or spring scenario, where one day the child needs a jacket and one day not - adjusting straps becomes a real issue, trust me.
Once you select your car seat, installation is a key starting point. Car seats should be anchored to the car, with a tightest possible fit and the least amount of “give”. To test whether you’ve installed the car seat correctly, you can take hold of the top of the seat and try to tilt it toward the front and sides of the vehicle. If the seat moves more than an inch in any direction, unbuckle it and try again until you have a tight fit. Some auto dealerships and police stations provide safety checks year-round - call to find out where the closest one is to you.
Every time you drive, make sure that the five point harness is snug on the child’s breast bone and the straps are on the shoulders - this would not allow them to slip from the top of the harness in case of sudden stop.
And last but not least, don’t speed. No matter how well installed and adjusted, any accident is better at a lower speed, and even 10 km/hr makes a huge difference.
Alexandra T. Greenhill, MD, CEO, Mom - who has treated kids injured in car accidents