Knowledge is power when it comes to car child seats

Recent study shows most parents are confused and uninformed when it comes to buying and installing child seats

A couple of years ago, I did a story on child seat installation and was told by the specialist that eighty to ninety per cent of the seats they see are installed incorrectly. When my son was in preschool, I attended a child seat installation clinic put on by our local fire station. I was told about ninety per cent of the seats they saw had been installed incorrectly, including mine. That son is now 25.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That seat I was trying to install a quarter century ago barely resembles the NASA-inspired cradles currently on the market to protect the next generation. The equipment has changed; parents, it seems, have not.

I feel for those parents. Installing a child is time consuming and detail-heavy. You need to read both your car owner’s manual and the seat manufacturer’s manual. Every seat-to-car equation is different. Canada has some of the most stringent safety standards in the world when it comes to protecting the littlest Canadians, and the Transport Canada website is a trove of up-to-date information – including product recalls – that is as labyrinthian as it is necessary.

A recent study by Graco, which manufactures car and booster seats, reveals parents across Canada experience doubt about the subject, and confusion about the equation of which kid/which seat/which position. Quebecers felt least informed, with only 45 per cent feeling knowledgeable, compared with 88 per cent of British Columbians. Parents in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have a good grasp (89 per cent) on the fact a growing child requires seats to be replaced.

One of the more interesting things unearthed in the Graco survey, however, pertains to our perception of safety regarding child seats. “Almost half of those surveyed (49 per cent) think there are safer car seats on the market than the one they currently use.” Perhaps it’s the fact the vehicles we drive are now laden with exceptional safety features that we now turning a keener eye to the vessels we park our youngsters in. Those surveyed are correct, however, and right to even be confused.

Car seats have an expiry date, and those made for the Canadian market have a Canadian stamp on them. You shouldn’t use a seat purchased in the U.S. or online; Canadian laws are more stringent. Make sure you register your purchase so you’ll be informed of safety notices or recalls. If you’re unsure, go to Transport Canada’s website and check. No seat manufactured before January 2012 can be given, sold or advertised in Canada. That means you probably shouldn’t be using it, either.

If you’ve ever faced the wall of child seats available for sale, you’ve probably defaulted to the “confused” side of those surveyed. Rear facing, forward facing, weight limits, dimensions, colours, styles, padding … the list goes on. It is now recommended that children be in some form of car seat or booster until the car’s seatbelt in the car properly fits them. For preteens itching to be grown up, this can mean battles ensue. Stick to your guns.

Car seats can be pricey, and you should factor in this cost as a major one when you’re having a child. There are a few models now on the market that can take your child all the way from newborn to leaving the booster; Graco has one and, while they’re pricier than others, they could defer purchasing more than one seat. My only concern? The same one those parents expressed about whether the seat they’re currently using is the safest one possible. Technology changes so rapidly, five years from now you might be eyeing that latest and greatest and changing it out anyway.

There can be hidden damage in car seats, especially ones when you don’t know their provenance. Ultraviolet rays break down plastic. Any seat in a vehicle that’s been involved in a collision needs to be replaced, even if no child was in the seat at the time. Your insurance company should honour the claim for a new seat; if they don’t, fight. Don’t use a seat with an unknown history. Any seat you use should have Transport Canada’s seal on it, all the instructions and tags, tethers, straps and buckles, and not be expired.

Canadians are still leery; “41 per cent of those surveyed feel like current car seats do not provide enough side impact protection for their child. Respondents in Atlantic Canada and Alberta were most likely to think current car seats do not provide enough protection (78 and 74 per cent respectively).”

Current car seats are safer than ever before. Just don’t forget as a parent, you have two main jobs. The first is properly installing the seat into the car, and the second is properly installing your child into the seat. Do your research in advance, set aside a few hours for the actual installation, visit a clinic in your community for tips and assistance and check in with Transport Canada for up-to-date information.

The Graco survey reveals a lot of confusion around a complicated subject, but one that is vital to protecting the most vulnerable passengers in your car.

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2 responses to Knowledge is power when it comes to car child seats

  1. Pat says:

    Great article! I get concerned when I see a 2 year old in a regular seat belt. Until kids weigh a certain amount and are the right size, they still need to be in a car seat or booster.

  2. Ydnew says:

    Car seats have come a long way in the forty-plus year since our eldest was born. We voluntarily bought our son home from the hospital in a car seat, mind you, it was in the front seat of the care – but there were rules then. Child seats were rare, few people thought they were necessary, and those that were available used only seat belts (another new amenity) to anchor them. We were considered positively weird for putting a child seat in the car that was anchored to the frame – no handy-dandy built in anchors, you literally had to drill the frame yourself. We got t-boned soon after. Our son was scared, but otherwise OK and of course, didn’t dream of replacing the seat.

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