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Bigger Kids

Car seat cheat sheet: Seat belts

Not sure which car seat you need when? Our reference guide breaks it down.

car seat

Who’s riding? Children around eight years and up.

Once kids reach either eight years, 80 lb. (36 kg) or 4’9,” they’re deemed ready by law to move out of the booster seat in most regions. But experts say that of the three, height is the best indicator of readiness. (The guideline is nine or ten years old in some provinces, but there is no legislation in several parts of the country.)

Safest use According to Transport Canada, kids should also be able to sit up against the back of the seat with their legs bent comfortably over the edge at a 90-degree angle. The shoulder belt should lie flat over his collarbone without pushing against his neck or face, and it should never be tucked behind his back or under his arm. The lap belt should be secured over his hips, not his stomach. Once he meets all of these criteria and can sit like this for an entire car trip, he’s ready to ride without the booster.

Next steps Kids older than 12 can sit up front, but according to safety experts, the back seat remains the safest place for pre-teens.

Tip Front seat airbags can hurt small children if they inflate during a crash or sudden stop. The safest place for kids is always in the back seat. —Transport Canada

Installation 101  There’s more than one safe way to install a car seat. You can use the universal anchorage system (UAS), if your car has it, or a seat belt (with the addition of a locking clip if your belts don’t have a locking feature). Consult your car’s manual and the child-seat user manual to figure out which method is best. The ideal spot for a child seat is in the middle of the back seat. Once you have positioned the seat, place your knee in the middle of the seat and use your body weight to fully tighten the straps. When you’re finished, it shouldn’t budge more than an inch in any direction at the belt path.

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Crash test  According to Transport Canada, your child’s car seat should be replaced if it is in a vehicle that has been in a collision—it’s even an insurance requirement for some companies.

FYI Accessories that didn’t come with your seat (such as liners, trays and comfort strap covers) might not be safe to use. Check with the car seat manufacturer first.

A version of this article appeared in our August 2014 issue with the headline "Car seat cheat sheet," p. 24-5. 

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