Car Seat Safety

A young girl in a booster seat.

Infants and children require car seats and booster seats to help spread the forces of a crash across the strongest parts of their bodies.

For a child to get the best protection from the car seat:

  • It must be the right seat for the age, height and weight of the child
  • The child must be properly harnessed into the car seat
  • The car seat must be properly attached to the vehicle

There are 4 stages of child passenger safety. The right stage for your
child depends on their age, weight, and height.



Did you know?

  • Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury related death up to age 15.
  • A correctly used car seat can reduce the risk of death and serious injury up to 75%.
  • In Halton Region at spot check car seat clinics conducted by the Halton Partners for Car seat Safety (HPCSS), an average of 75% of drivers were found to be using their child seats incorrectly.


Car Seat Installation Guide Videos

What to know before buying a car or booster seat
Guide to Installing a Forward-Facing Car Seat
Guide to Installing a Rear-Facing Car Seat
Guide to Installing a Booster Seat


Car Time Stage - Rear-facing seats Car Time Stage - Front-facing seats Car Time Stage - Booster seats Car Time Stage - Seat belts Car Time Stages Graph

Adapted from Transport Canada (external link)


Car Seat Statistics

  • 4 out of every 5 children are not correctly buckled up in their seats.
  • Motor Vehicle Collisions are a leading cause of death for children between the ages of one to nine
  • 75% of crash related deaths and serious injuries can be prevented by the correct use of an infant or child car seat
  • Nearly half of Canadians do not use booster seats for their children once they outgrow forward-facing car seats.
  • More than half of Canadians allow children under 12 to sit in the front seat. This is not a safe position, especially if there is a front passenger air bag.
    (Infant and Toddler Safety Association, Safe Kids Canada) 
  • View car seat installation videos at Parachute (external link).

The Law

Ontario law for child passenger safety is enforced under the Highway Traffic Act, regulation 613 (external link) (seatbelt assemblies). The chart below summarizes the minimum legal requirements for anyone travelling with young children in their vehicles in Ontario.

Transport Canada Safety Mark Car seats and booster seats must be purchased in Canada and show the National Safety Mark for use in Canada. It is illegal to use a car seat or booster seat purchased from another country (e.g., the U.S.) unless you are a visitor.

Child definitions Stage Legal Requirements in Ontario
Infant
birth until 9 kg (20 lbs)
Rear-facing Must be in a rear-facing car seat harnessed and installed in the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Toddler
9 kg (20 lbs) until 18 kg (40 lbs)
Forward-facing Must be in an appropriate car seat (rear or forward-facing) harnessed and installed in the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s instructions. [forward-facing car seats must have a top tether strap secured in addition to the seatbelt or universal anchorage system]
Preschooler
18 kg (40 lbs) until a 8 years old, 4ft. 9 inches, or 36 kg (80 lbs)
Booster seats Must ride in an appropriate forward facing car seat or booster seat harnessed and installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: The law is always the minimum requirement, see the next section for ways to increase your child’s safety when travelling in the car.

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There are many different types, brands, and models of car seats and booster seats on the market and it can be very confusing when trying to choose which one is best for your child.

Tips - Before you buy:Transport Canada Safety Mark

  • Check your child’s height and weight before shopping
  • All car seats and boosters have an expiry date or ‘useful’ life date. Check this before you buy to make sure it has not been sitting on the shelf at the store for a long period of time.
  • Only Canadian car seats and boosters can be used. Check for the National Safety Mark
  • Read the labels on the car seats and choose one with higher weight limits so it can be used longer in each stage.

Keep in mind:

  • The law is used as the minimum standard. Try to exceed theses standards by keeping your child in each stage as long as possible.
  • No one brand of  car seat is the safest
  • Price is not an indication of safety
  • The best seat fits your child and your vehicle and is used correctly

Second hand car seats

Considering a second hand car seat for you child?

Disposing of a used seat

If you have an expired, damaged, or unsafe car seat that you want to get rid of, make sure that you take it apart before putting it in the garbage. Cut the straps, remove the padding and dispose of these items separately. An intact car seat that has been put at the curb for garbage may be picked up by someone else that does not know it is unsafe to use.

  • For more information dial 311 or 905-825-6000 and ask to speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety.
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Baby sleeping in a rear-facing carseatInfants’ bodies are delicate. Their heads and necks are especially vulnerable and need to be protected from the strong forces of a car crash. Infants and toddlers benefit greatly from travelling facing the back of a vehicle (rear-facing position). This allows the car seat to absorb most of the force of a collision instead of the fragile head and neck. Because of this benefit, do not be in a rush to move to stage 2 – forward-facing.

Click here for more information about (external link):

  • Choosing a forward-facing car seat
  • Harnessing your baby in a rear-facing car seat
  • Installing a rear-facing car seat in your vehicle.

When do you move your child to a forward-facing car seat?

Rear-facing carseat

Don’t rush! Even if your child weighs over 10 kg (22 lbs), is able to walk on his or her own and the law says you can use a forward-facing seat, the rear-facing position is still safer! As long as your child is still below the weight and height limits of your current car seat, you should use that seat for as long as possible.

Keep your child in the rear-facing seat until he or she grows out of it. Your car seat manual will tell you the maximum weight and height of a child for that seat in the rear-facing position. If your child grows out of your current rear-facing car seat, there may be another type/brand that will still fit your child. Some rear-facing car seats can be used for children up to 23 kg (50 lbs).

It is okay if your child’s legs touch the back of your vehicle seat, as long as your child is still below the manufacturer’s weight and height limits.

Tips for harnessing your child in their rear-facing car seat:Child correctly seated in a rear-facing carseat

  • Always read and follow your car seat manual
  • Make sure your child’s back & bottom are flat against the car seat back
  • Harness straps should come out of the back of the car seat at or slightly below the shoulders
  • Harness straps must lie flat, no twists or folds
  • Harness should fit tight. Try the ‘pinch test’ – you should not be able to pinch a fold in the harness strap.

  • pinch test
  • Do not place extra padding behind infant or child
  • Chest clip must be placed at the armpit level to prevent the harness straps from sliding off the shoulders

Tips for attaching the car seat in your vehicle:

Univeral Anchorage System clips
  • Always read and follow both your car seat manual AND your vehicle manual
  • Most infant-only seats have a detachable base which is attached to the vehicle and then the car seat snaps into the base
  • Your car seat manual will have information on where and how to attach your car seat (or infant base) to your vehicle using either the seat belt or the universal anchorage system (UAS) [use only one belt to attach your car seat, not both]
  • Your vehicle manual will tell you what angle your rear-facing car seat needs to be at. Many car seats have built in level indicators which will help you get the right angle. You may need to adjust the infant-only base or add a rolled towel or foam pool noodle to get the correct angle depending on the slope of your vehicle seats
  • When tightening the seat belt or UAS, push down on the car seat while you pull the strap tight. There should be less than 1 inch of movement in any direction where the belt is attached
  • If using an infant-only car seat, check car seat manual to see if the carry handle should be up or down when driving
  • Never attach a rear-facing car seat in the front seat in front of an active air bag
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Resources

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety dial 311.

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Forward-facing carseatIt is safer for your child to stay rear-facing as long as possible. Once they are older they can move to a forward facing car seat. This stage allows for excellent protection through a 5-point harness system that is placed over the strong, bony parts of a child’s body. A top tether strap is used along with the seatbelt or universal anchorage system (UAS) to prevent the head from moving too far forward in a crash. Do not be in a rush to move your child into a booster seat!

Click here for more information about (external link):

  • Choosing a rear-facing car seat
  • Harnessing your baby in a rear-facing car seat
  • Installing a rear-facing car seat in your vehicle.

When do you move your child to a booster seat?

Forward-facing carseat

Don’t rush! Even if your child weighs over 18 kg (40 lbs) and the law says you can use a booster seat, your child is safer in the forward-facing seat! As long as your child is still below the weight and height limits of your current car seat, you should use that seat for as long as possible.

Keep your child in the forward-facing seat until he or she grows out of it. Your car seat manual will tell you the maximum weight and height of a child for that seat in the forward-facing position. If your child grows out of your current forward-facing car seat, there may be another type/brand of forward-facing car seat that may still fit. Some forward-facing car seats can be used for children up to 30 kg (65 lbs).

Tips for harnessing your child in their forward-facing car seat:Child correctly seated in a forward-facing carseat

  • Always read and follow your car seat manual
  • Harness straps should come out of the back of the car seat at or slightly above the shoulders
  • Harness straps must lie flat, no twists or folds
  • Harness should fit tight. Try the ‘pinch test’ – you should not be able to pinch a fold in the harness strap.

  • pinch test
  • Do not place extra padding behind child
  • Chest clip must be placed at the armpit level to prevent the harness straps from sliding off the shoulders
 

Tips for attaching the car seat in your vehicle:

Univeral Anchorage System clips
  • Always read and follow both your car seat manual AND your vehicle manual
  • Your vehicle manual will have information on where and how to attach your car seat to your vehicle using either the seat belt or the universal anchorage system(UAS) [use only one belt to attach your car seat, not both]
  • When tightening the seat belt or UAS, push down on the car seat while you pull the strap tight. There should be less than 1 inch of movement in any direction where the belt is attached
  • All forward-facing car seats must have a top tether strap attached to an anchor bolt in your vehicle (in addition to the seat belt or UAS). Check your vehicle manual to locate the tether anchor bolts in your vehicle. The tether strap must be tight to prevent the car seat from tipping forward in a crash.
  • Generally, forward-facing car seats should be in the upright position. Check your car seat manual to see if there are any other acceptable recline positions
  • Never attach a forward-facing car seat in the front seat in front of an active air bag
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Resources:

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety dial 311.

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Booster seat

It is safer to keep your child in a forward-facing car seat as long as possible. Children must be at least 18 kg. (40 lb.) to move to a booster seat. Seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. Booster seats raise your child up so that the seatbelt fits over the correct parts of the body. An incorrectly placed lap or shoulder belt can cause serious internal and neck injuries to a child. The ‘arm rest’ of the booster acts as hip bones to hold the lap belt in place. Do not be in a rush to move your child into a seatbelt alone.

Click here for more information about (external link):

  • Choosing a booster seat
  • Using a booster seat

When do you move your child to a seatbelt alone?

Don’t rush! Even if your child is 8 years old and the law says you can use a seat belt alone, your child is still safer in a booster seat!

Keep your child in the booster seat until he or she grows out of it. Your booster seat manual will tell you the maximum weight and height of a child for that seat. If your child grows out of your current booster car seat, there may be another type/brand of booster car seat that may still fit. Sitting HeightSome booster seats can be used for children up to 54 kg (120 lbs).

A booster seat should be used until:

  • Your child has a sitting height of at least 74 cm (29”)
  • Your child is at least 145 cm (4 ft. 9”) tall
  • Your child is 9 or 10 years of age
  • The lap belt rests across their upper thighs
  • The shoulder belt is centered across the chest
  • Your child can sit all the way back against the vehicle seat with their knees bent over the edge of the seat (and they can stay seated like this for the whole trip)

Tips for properly buckling your child in their booster seat:

Child correctly seated in a boster seat
  • All booster seats need a lap and shoulder seat belt
  • Your vehicle manual will tell you where you can use a booster seat in your vehicle
  • Your booster seat manual will tell you how to fit both the lap and shoulder parts of the seat belt over your child and the booster seat properly
  • Never attach a booster seat in the front seat in front of an active air bag
  • Remember to buckle the booster seat even when your child is not in it so it does not injure anyone in the vehicle during a sudden stop or crash

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Resources:

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety dial 311.

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Moving to a seatbelt too soon.Your child should use a booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits correctly. Seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. If the seat belt is not worn correctly, your child could suffer serious brain injuries or damage to internal organs in a crash. A lap and shoulder belt offers better protection than a lap belt alone.

Click here for more information about (external link):

  • When to move to a seat belt alone
  • Using a seat belt

Tips for using a seat belt properly:Child belted into a car.

  • Transport Canada recommends that all children 12 years and under sit in the back seat, especially when there is a front air bag
  • The lap belt should fit over the upper thighs and the shoulder belt should be in the centre of the child’s shoulders and chest
  • The seat belt should fit snug
  • Set a good example for your child by wearing your own seat belt every time your ride in the car
  • Any after market seat belt positioning devices are not recommended. These devices can seriously injure a child. If the seat belt does not seem to fit your child properly, they likely should be in a booster seat.




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Resources:

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety dial 311.

For car seat resources in other languages see Car seat recalls, expiry dates and other resources.
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Recalls and public notices

Register your car seat with the manufacturer if have purchased a new car seat. This can be done either online or by sending in the registration card that comes with your seat. Car seat and booster seat manufacturers are required to notify all consumers that have registered with them of any defects, recalls, public notices, or any other potential problems with the car seat you have purchased.

Expiry and useful life dates

All children’s car seats and booster seats sold in Canada have an expiry or useful life date (external link)  on them. It is also important to note that if you own a car seat or booster seat made before January 1, 2012, under Health Canada’s Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (external link), you may not be able to advertise, sell, or give it away because it may not meet the latest requirements set out by Health Canada and Transport Canada. For further information regarding the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, please contact Health Canada

  • Road safety – general inquiries
    Phone: 1-800-333-0371
    Email: roadsafetywebmail@tc.gc.ca
  • Road safety – defects and recalls
    Phone: 1-800-333-0510

Video clips - Tips for harnessing and installing car/booster seats

It is important to follow both your car seat and vehicle manuals when properly harnessing your child into their car seat and installing your car seat or booster seat in your vehicle. Here are some video clips that will give you some tips:

View car seat videos in other languages (external link)

Car seat clinics/education in Halton Region

If you want to increase your knowledge about car seat safety, or if you would like to have your car seat inspected, there are several options in Halton Region.

  • If you are pregnant, you can register online to attend one of Halton Region’s Prenatal car seat workshops. You will learn about using car seats and how to install them in your vehicle.
  • If you would like to have your car seat inspected for free you can call 3-1-1 to see what is available in your community
  • If you would like to hire someone to install your car seat for you, private companies are available and can be found online or in the yellow pages.
  • If you are a professional in the community and you are looking for a presentation or display on car seat safety for an event please call 3-1-1 or email haltonparents@halton.ca

Halton Partners for Car Seat Safety (HPCSS)HPCSS logo

  • HPCSS is a community group of professionals and volunteers whose goal is to decrease injuries to children from riding unsafely in car seats through awareness, education and enforcement.
  • Partners include: Halton Region Health Department, Halton Regional Police Services, Milton Fire Department, Oakville Fire Department, Halton Hills Fire Department, The Co-operators, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Ontario Provincial Police, and community volunteers

Safety Drives UsSafety Drives With Us logo

The Safety Drives Us (external link) website includes videos and training materials in several languages.

  • Safety Drives Us was formed to enhance the safety of all road users by focusing on the traditionally ‘hard to reach’ Ontarian. Their mission is to remove barriers and enhance the safety of all Ontarians.
  • Partners include: Brampton Multicultural Council, Halton Multicultural Council, Hamilton Public Health Services, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Ontario Provincial Police, Region of Peel, Road Today, Peel Regional Police, Halton Regional Police, and Halton Public Health Department.

Resources:

To speak with a public health nurse about car seat safety dial 311
View car seat resources in other languages (external link)

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1. Is it possible to buy a safe, affordable car seat on a budget?

Yes. Price is not an indication of safety. All car seats sold in Canada have to pass the same safety tests in order to be approved. Some seats may have fancier fabrics or accessories like cup holders which may make them more expensive. Use the correct type of car seat for your child’s stage according to best practice recommendations and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your car seat so you have lots of time to shop around and look for sales.

2. How can I tell which car seat is compatible with my vehicle?

If your car seat fits well in your vehicle when you install it according to the manufacturer’s instructions and is relatively easy to install then that means it is compatible. If you can’t get the seat tight enough or the correct angle according to the manual or if it is very hard to achieve these things, it might be best to try a different model of car seat in your vehicle.

3. Why is it illegal to use a car seat purchased in the United States (U.S.) in Canada?

Canada and the U.S. have different methods of testing car seats. Car seats used in Canada need to have passed all the tests and requirements set out by Transport Canada and have the (Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) CMVSS sticker to show that this is the case. Only car seats purchased in Canada can be used.

4. Is it safe to use a car seat that I bought at a garage sale for my daughter?

If you don’t know the history of the car seat (for example – if it has ever been in a car crash), it is best not to use it. Also, car seats or booster seats should not be used if they are expired or do not meet current Canadian safety standards. Please note the Canadian safety standards (external link) changed January 1st 2012. Often times, car seats sold online or at garage sales may not have the instruction manual with them.

5. Is it safe to re-use an old car seat that I used for my older child?

That depends, there are a few things to consider when re-using a car seat that you used for your older child. Before reusing an old car seat ask yourself:

6. How can I tell if my car seat has been recalled?

If you sent in the registration card that came with your car seat when you bought it, the manufacturer will notify you if there have been any recalls. If you haven’t registered your car seat, this can usually be done online or by contacting the manufacturer. Otherwise, you can check Transport Canada’s (external link) website regularly for recalls and warnings.

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1. How can I make sure my car seat is installed correctly?

ALWAYS follow both your car seat and vehicle instruction manuals. Watch video clips (external link) to see how to correctly install each stage of car seat. Call 3-1-1 to speak to a public health nurse about car seat safety

2. I’ve heard the centre seat is the safest place to put my car seat. Can I use the Universal Anchorage System (UAS) to attach it in the centre?Univeral Anchorage System clips

You need to check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see if the UAS can be used in the centre seating position. In many vehicles you can’t and must either use the seatbelt in the middle seat to attach the car seat or move the car seat to one of the sides of the vehicle to use the UAS.

3. My sister said it is safer to use both the UAS AND the seatbelt when installing my car seat, is this true?

No. The seat belt OR the U.A.S. should be used to attach your car seat to your vehicle, not both.

4. I’m expecting my 2nd child. We have an SUV and I’m wondering where’s the best place to position the 2 car seats in my car?

Positioning of 2 car seats (or more) in your vehicle will depend on the make of car seats that you have, whether the seats are rear-facing, forward-facing, or boosters and the make of your vehicle. Please call 3-1-1 to discuss this with a public health nurse.

5. My car seat comes with a tether for the rear-facing position as well as the forward-facing position, can I use the tether rear-facing?

It is not common practice to tether rear-facing car seats in Canada and it may be difficult to find an approved spot to attach the rear-facing tether in your vehicle. If you do wish to tether your rear-facing seat, follow your car seat manual carefully and follow-up with the car seat manufacturer or your vehicle manufacturer if you have any questions.

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1. Is it OK if a rear-facing seat touches the seat in front?

Ideally there should be some space between the car seat and the front vehicle seat. Check your car seat manual to see what is recommended for your particular car seat.

2. I have heard that it is not recommended to use a car seat bag or snowsuit in the car seat… how can I keep my baby warm in the winter?

Rather than using a car seat bag or snowsuit, it is safer to use a blanket over your baby once she is harnessed in the car seat. Too much padding reduces the safety of the seat and can quickly over-heat a baby. For infant-only seats there are also car seat covers available which go over the top of the car seat and do not interfere with the harness straps.

3. What if my baby’s feet touch the back of the vehicle seat?

Your child can bend his legs easily and will be comfortable in a rear-facing position. Injuries to the legs are rare for children rear facing. Follow your car seat manual’s instructions about when your child is too big for the car seat.

4. My baby is 10 months old and 10 kg (22 lbs.) She is too big for her infant-only rear-facing car seat, what seat should I use next?

In this case, it would be best to move her to an infant-child seat that goes both rear-facing and forward facing. Use it in the rear-facing position until she reaches the maximum weight limit allowed by the manufacturer and then the car seat can be used in the forward-facing position. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
TIP: look for an infant-child seat with a high weight limit so you can keep her rear-facing longer.

5. My son is 4 years old, and only 17 kg (37 lbs.) but is too tall for his current car seat. Can I put him in a booster seat?

No! Don’t rush into the booster seat stage. A child needs to be at least 18 kg (40 lbs.) by law (preferably heavier) to be able to use a booster seat. If your child has reached the maximum height for your current car seat, a combination child-booster seat would be a good option to purchase as they often accommodate taller children when used as a forward facing car seat. Once your child reaches the maximum weight limit in the forward facing position, the child-booster seat can be adjusted to be used as a high back booster seat.

6. My son is 8 and the law says I can move him out of his booster seat. How can I be sure he is ready to use a seat belt on its own?

Even though the law says a child who is 8 does not need to use a booster seat, it is better to use your child’s size rather than age to determine if he is ready for a seat belt alone. It is recommended that a child be at least 36 kg (80 lbs.), 145 cm (4 ft. 9 in) tall and have a sitting height of at least 74 cm (29 in) before they move out of a booster seat. Don’t rush!

7. Can I use a booster seat with just a lap belt?

No. Booster seats must be used with a shoulder/lap belt combination.

8. Do I need to use a booster seat to drive my daughter’s 6 year old friend?

Yes. In Ontario, it is the driver’s legal responsibility to make sure that all passengers in their vehicle under16 years of age wear a seat belt or are in the correct car seat or booster seat. By law, your daughter’s 6 year old friend must be buckled up in a child restraint that suits her weight, height and age.

9. When can my child sit in the front seat?

According to Transport Canada (external link), children 12 years of age and under should always be in the back seat. Most cars have front seat air bags, and these can hurt small children if the bags inflate during a crash or sudden stop. The safest place in the car for children is always in the back seat.

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1. What are the most common mistakes people make when using car seats?

The most common mistakes that are seen are: the child is in the wrong type of seat for their size, the harness straps are too loose, the chest clip is too low on the child, forward-facing seats are not tethered, and the car seat is not installed tight enough in the vehicle.

2. My baby sleeps well in her infant car seat. Can I use this as a portable crib inside my home?

Transport Canada (external link) advises that infant car seats are NOT cribs or temporary cribs and that infant car seats do not meet the safety requirements for a crib. Babies have been accidentally strangled by the harness straps when they have been left unattended in their infant car seat while outside of a vehicle.

3. Do I need to replace a seat that has been in a crash-even thought my child wasn’t in it?

Yes. A car seat that has been in a crash, even if the child wasn’t in the seat at the time, needs to be replaced. Even if it was a fender bender, or if there’s no visible damage to the seat, you must replace it to ensure your child’s safety. It’s possible that there could be some internal damage to the seat that would make it unable to withstand the force or trauma of another crash. Make sure you include the replacement cost of a child’s car seat in any insurance claim you may be filing. Most insurance companies will cover the cost to replace the damaged car seat.

4. Should I bring my car seat on an airplane?

Although, Transport Canada (external link) recommends that young children ride in a car seat when flying, it’s best to call the airline and ask if they have rules that may affect your decision in using a child car seat. A few points to consider regarding child car seat use in an airplane.

  • Booster seats cannot be used on airplanes because they require a lap and shoulder belt and airplane seats do not have shoulder belts.
  • Airplane seats do not have tether anchors, so the tether strap of a forward-facing car seat must be stored according to the car seat manual so that it does not hit anyone inside the airplane during turbulence.

Some airlines allow children under the age of two to ride for free on the airplane. In these cases, the child must ride on the parent’s lap.

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Important notice

The information provided on this website is intended to help with the selection and safe use of car seats and booster seats. Under no circumstances should this information be used to replace the car seat instruction booklet or the vehicle owner's manual. Car seats and booster seats are all different and these details are included in the manual provided with them. All provinces have different laws.