A mom putting her baby in a rear-facing car seat for safety

A car seat may not be the most exciting thing you’ll ever buy for your baby, but it is one of the most crucial. In fact, it’s so important for child safety that families who deliver in a hospital can’t go home without it.[1]

When used correctly, the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC) says a car seat can reduce the risk of fatal injury in a collision by a whopping 71 per cent[2]—but it’s not the easiest task to properly install and use. Check out these 10 car-seat safety tips and sidestep some of the pitfalls that many parents face.

Currently in the process of choosing a car seat? Our Car Seat Buying Guide can help.

1Keep an eye on the Canadian recall list.

The concern: You may buy a car seat that’s later recalled for a faulty part or for failing to meet the standards of car-seat safety in Canada.

The quick fix: Check that your car seat isn’t on the Canadian recall list. Bookmark the link on your phone or computer and continue to take a peek every couple of months.

2Read your vehicle’s manual.

A car seat clipped into a lower anchor

The concern: Though all vehicles made after 2002 must come with a universal anchorage system (UAS) for installing car seats,[3] it may not be obvious how to find (and properly use) the anchors and tethers that secure your car seat in place.

The quick fix: Every vehicle manual comes with a section on car-seat installation. Give it a read!

3Have an expert check over your installation.

The concern: A car seat can only protect your baby if it’s installed and used properly. According to the CPSAC, 73 per cent of car seats were set up incorrectly in a 2015 roadside study.[2]

The quick fix: Attend a community car-seat clinic or have a technician check your installation. Visit CPSAC for a list of car-seat technicians in your area.

4Keep your new baby lying at a 30- to 45-degree angle.

A rear-facing car seat on a recline angle between 30 and 45 degrees

The concern: Newborns (and especially preemies) don’t have control of their heads and, if they’re not seated in a reclined position, risk their head falling forward and blocking their airway.[4]

The quick fix: Read your car-seat manual to find your model’s correct recline angle for newborns (usually somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees[5]). There may even be a gauge on the seat to help you measure, or you can use an app on your phone.

5Stick with a rear-facing car seat as long as weight restrictions allow.

The concern: By law, all babies must start out in a rear-facing car seat so that, in a frontal crash, they will be pushed back into their seat and it can absorb the impact.[6] If the child is facing forward, their harness will hold them in place, but their head will still be thrown forward, which can damage their neck and spine.[7]

The quick fix: Choose a rear-facing or convertible car seat and install it facing the back of your vehicle for as long as the manual’s weight restrictions allow.

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Rear-facing, forward-facing and convertible: What’s the diff?
Rear-facing car seats face the baby to the back of the vehicle, forward-facing turn to the front of the vehicle and convertible car seats start out facing the back and can be moved to face forward at a certain weight and/or height. All “infant” car seats are rear facing.

6Keep an eye on the car seat’s maximum weight.

The concern: If your child exceeds the car seat’s maximum weight, that seat will no longer perform the way it should in an accident.[8]

The quick fix: Don’t continue to use a car-seat model if your child exceeds the maximum weight, period. At the same time, don’t be tempted to switch your child to the next position too early.

7Don’t let extra padding get between baby and car seat.

Bulky snow suit versus a safe car seat cover

The concern: Fluffy padding and clothing can prevent the car-seat harness from sitting tightly against your child.[9] The force of a collision can cause the fluff to depress, making the straps loose and jolting your child or even allowing them to slip free.[4]

The quick fix: Skip padding (unless it comes with your car seat) and opt for thin snowsuits, blankets or car-seat covers that lie on top of the harness.

Shop Car Seat Covers and Blankets

8Use caution when buying plastic third-party aftermarket products.

The concern: A hard plastic tray, toy or mobile could become a missile in a car crash, causing a head injury.[9]

The quick fix: Only use hard toys on your stroller or on the car seat when the car isn’t moving. For car rides, stick to soft toys and books to entertain your little one.

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What are third-party aftermarket products?
“Third-party aftermarket” or “aftermarket” products are items that you can buy for a car seat (think trays, head supports and car-seat covers) that don’t come packaged with the car seat. They can sometimes pose a car-seat safety hazard because they haven’t been tested alongside all seat models. Click here for a full list of aftermarket products that Transport Canada says to skip.

Shop Soft Toys and Books

9Don’t let your baby sleep in the car seat outside of the car.

The concern: When an infant sits in a car seat outside of a vehicle, the seat becomes top-heavy and prone to tipping. If the seat tips, the harness could put excessive pressure on the infant’s neck.[10]

The quick fix: Once the car ride is over, take your baby out of their car seat (even during a nap) and place them in a crib or bassinet.

10Use reminders so you won’t forget your baby in the back seat.

The concern: It may seem unthinkable, but parents really do forget their babies in the car due to fatigue, stress or changes in routine. Closed cars can become dangerously hot for a child in a matter of minutes and can result in heat stroke or worse.[11]

The quick fix: Use memory aids, like always placing your purse on the floor in the back seat or leaving your phone next to the car seat.[12]

Looking for car seat–safe toys and accessories? Check out our roundup of 12 Must-Haves for Safe and Fun Car Rides with Babies.