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Column originally published Aug 13, 1997
Column last revised/updated on Jun 21, 2019

Children Should Always Buckle Up In Car Seats

Question: I need your help. I have been arguing with my daughter and her husband. They have a two-year-old boy who doesn’t like to stay in the car seat or get buckled up in the car. My daughter sometimes will even let him ride in the car sitting on her laps in the front. They have another 8-month-old daughter. I am worried about the safety of these children. Is there anything that I can do?


You are right to be concerned about the safety of your grandchildren. Every year, hundreds of children under the age of five die while riding in motor vehicles in North America. All the provinces and states have laws that require the use of car seats or child restraint devices for children when travelling in motor vehicles. However, some parents still ignore the law or buckle their children improperly, resulting in great tragedies.

In order to have a safe journey, whether one is going to the local supermarket or driving across the country, it is important to make sure that children are safely secured in their seats. Just because a child fuss about sitting in a car seat should not be the reason to unbuckle him or her. If the child is ALWAYS buckled up in a car seat at an early age, he/she will develop a life-long habit of buckling up when travelling in a car. Of course, parents should ALWAYS buckle up themselves to set a good example.

The back seat of the car is the safest place for children of any age. When travelling with a small baby, an adult should sit next to the baby in the back seat whenever possible. In this way, if the child gets upset, this adult can look after the child’s need. If there is only one adult in the car, always pull over and stop the car before attending to the child. It is very dangerous to drive and look back at the child.

All babies should be placed in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 20 lb (9 kg) and 1 year of age. This is to prevent them from neck injuries during a crash. Infants who weigh more than 20 lb before one year should be in a rear-facing convertible car seat. If the car has a passenger-side front air-bag, don’t place the rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat. When the air-bag inflates at an accident, it will hit the car seat with great force and can cause serious (and sometimes fatal) injury to the child.

If the infant is very small, the head may drop forward when the child is in the child safety seat. This may depend on the contour of the seat in the car. In that situation, the safety seat can be tilted a little by putting a roll under the safety seat below the baby’s feet. This will allow the infant to ride safely and comfortably. Some premature babies may need padding around them because of their small size. Parents can consult the nurse or physician before taking a premature baby home.

For children over one year of age and between 20 to 40 lb (9 to 18 kg), a forward-facing convertible car seat can be used as long as the child can fit well in it. Some new cars are equipped with optional integrated child safety seats that are suitable for these children. Children over this size can use booster seats. There are two types of booster seat, depending on the type of seat belt in the car. Belt-positioning boosters are designed for cars with both lap and shoulder belts and offer the best protection. If there are lap belts only, then one can use a shield booster which provides less protection to the upper body.

If the child has outgrown the booster seat, make sure that the car’s seat belt can fit the child properly. The shoulder belt should fit across the shoulder and not across the face or neck. The lap belt must be tight and low on the hips, not across the stomach. If the child cannot fit into the seat belt properly, insist on using a booster seat.

Recently, a number of serious and fatal injuries have occurred in children between three and five years of age. They were all sitting in the front passenger seat using the car’s seat belt. Some of the accidents were actually quite minor. When the air-bag inflates, the tremendous force can cause fracture of the neck and death. Therefore, it is much safer for children to sit in the back seat. If a child has to sit in the front passenger seat, position this seat as far back as possible away from the dashboard and the air-bag.

I hope your daughter will read this column and accept the advice that I have given. Good luck.

[Note to Readers: Since the publication of this column, there have been many changes to car safety, seat belts, air bags, as well as car seats and booster seats. Please consult with your local police; they can give you advice, and may even help you to install your car seat properly.]