Top Car Seat Safety Tips from a Certified Car Seat Tech

by Brood

For some new parents, the first car ride with a new baby can feel really intimidating. After all, the safety of your new baby will be top of mind especially in those first few days, weeks and months (ok, let’s face it—forever!). As you’re learning to care for a baby, even just the little things like changing diapers, swaddling, and nursing a baby can feel like… a lot! But with time and practice, all of these things, including travelling with your little one, will become familiar. 

Even if you don’t currently own or use a car, you’ll at some point need to get the baby in a car seat (hello first ride home from the hospital!). 

Whether you decide to eventually invest in a car seat of your own or utilise a car-sharing service like Modo, which have secure child seats available, there are plenty of options to help your family travel safely. 

Car seat safety is of paramount importance when it comes to protecting your child during car rides. Motor vehicle collisions are one of the leading causes of injury and death among children, and proper car seat usage can significantly reduce the risk of harm. But did you know that 73% of car seats were used or installed incorrectly? (CPSAC, 2021), and not all car seats are appropriate for every vehicle. 

Before you feel any sense of guilt or embarrassment in not knowing how to install your car seat correctly, take a deep breath, you’re not a bad parent—not all car seats are intuitive, and some can be quite complex! That’s where certified child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs) or car seat technicians come in. 

What’s a CPST?

Child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs) are trained professionals certified by the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC) who aim to help educate caregivers on best practices for car seat safety based on the manufacturer’s guidelines, how to correctly check for the appropriate fit of the car seat to the vehicle, and whether the car seat fits appropriately based on their child’s weight, height, and development for every single ride.

By following the guidelines and best practices based on the vehicle and car seat manufacturer’s guidelines, you can provide your child with a safe and secure environment while travelling on the road.

Here are some things to consider when doing an initial check of your car seat*:

1. Look for the National Safety Mark 

For a car seat to be permitted for use in Canada, the car seat must have the National Safety Mark, which is proof that the car seat meets the Canadian safety standards by Transport Canada. Although you may have scored a great deal on a car seat over the border, without the National Safety Mark, the car seat will not be permitted to be used in Canada. For second-hand/used car seats, you can use this checklist from CPSAC to check the viability of the car seat. 

2. Check the date of manufacture and expiry date 

Each car seat will have a label (often at the back or side of the car seat) that indicates the make/model number, and date of manufacture for the car seat (which you can refer to to register your car seat with the manufacturer to be notified of any recalls or replacement parts required). You’ll then want to look in the car seat manual for the expiry date, or how many years from the manufacture date the car seat is permitted to be used for. Most car seats have a styrofoam structure for the shell and the materials/fabrics will deteriorate with wear and tear of the seat over time.

3. Check the appropriate recline level for your child’s age, weight, and development

For newborns, we want the car seat to be at the furthest recline level based on the guidelines indicated in the car seat manual. This is to ensure they have adequate neck support (as they don’t have the neck strength to hold themselves up), but also to ensure they have enough support to keep their airway open and chin away from their chest. As your child grows, be sure to check the weight and height requirements indicated in the manual to know when to adjust the recline. 

In terms of best practice, we want to keep children rear-facing for as long as possible until they max out on either the weight or height limits for rear-facing mode. This is because in the event of a collision, not only does everything in the vehicle follow the impact of the collision, but children do not have the bone density and body mass to withstand the impact of a collision.  

4. Check your vehicle owner’s manual on where the car seat can be installed

There is not necessarily a “safest” place for the car seat to be installed, so long as you are following your vehicle manufacturer’s guidelines on where the car seat (often referred to as child restraint system in the vehicle owner’s manual) can be installed. Whether you decide to install your car seat with the UAS (Universal Anchorage System)/LATCH, or seatbelt, be sure to check both your car seat manual and vehicle owner’s manual on where/how the car seat can be installed. 

If your car seat has a load leg, it is always recommended to be used as load legs serve as a shock absorbent in the event of a collision. 

5. Do an “Inch Test”

Whether you install your car seat with the UAS/LATCH or seatbelt method when the car seat is appropriately installed, it should not move more than 1” side to side, forward and back at the base of the car seat (closest to the bite of the vehicle seat) – this is the “Inch Test”, and you can use your non-dominant hand to check for the security of your car seat. 

We don’t necessarily want the car seat to be locked in with zero movement (most car seat manufacturers don’t allow for both the UAS/LATCH and seat belt install to be used) as the car seat should flow with the movement of a collision, which is how the manufacturers have done their crash testing. 

6. Check the fit of the car seat on your child

If you are currently expecting/awaiting the arrival of your little, and unsure of how to check for the appropriate fit, bring a doll that closely resembles the size of a newborn. Get a feel of how the harness, buckles, chest clip and handle (for a rear-facing only, RFO) seat is before you purchase your car seat. This will give you the comfort and confidence in getting your child in and out of the seat. 

For a proper fit, we want baby’s bum to be all the way to the back and sit baby at 45 degrees (and not slouched too horizontally), and when clipping the harness on, take a pinch test with the chest clip sitting along the nipple line or along the armpits. This is to ensure that the harness is secure and the chest clip is what is keeping the harness from slipping off the baby’s shoulders. We are no longer checking for two fingers to fit under the harness as everyone’s fingers are of different sizes, so this is no longer an accurate way to check for the appropriate tightness of the harness. 

Some car seats (especially RFOs) may have specific requirements on where the handle should be when the vehicle is moving – this is because some car seat handles act as a rebound bar in the event of a collision, so be sure to check for where the handle should sit when the car seat is in use in the vehicle. 

If you’re already feeling overwhelmed with where to begin with car seats, we don’t blame you! Car seats are not intuitive, and it can be very daunting walking into a retail store for a car seat. Rest assured, if you need some professional guidance, we recommend all caregivers to babies and young children to find a CPST to help you find a car seat that is appropriate for your vehicle, your child, and your budget. They are individuals who sought out professional training and certification through CPSAC because they care deeply about car seat safety. 

You can find a technician in your local area through CPSAC (several of which do car seat checks by donation!). We hope this guide helped give you the confidence to ride safely with your precious littles for every single ride. 

*Best practices indicated in this article are based on Canadian car seat safety guidelines under CPSAC – for non-Canadian friends, please refer to Safe Kids Worldwide to learn more about how to get your car seat checked by a Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician in the US. 

About the Author: 

Lynn Shinto (she/her) is a birth and postpartum doula with Brood, a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST), childbirth educator and a professional postpartum belly binder. Lynn is passionate about educating and supporting the entire family through their new lives with a newborn, all things baby and child safety, and a lifelong learner in birthwork. Check out Lynn’s Brood profile here, social, or doula website to book a car seat check with her today!

About Modo:

We’re here to transform communities by connecting people with places in a way that is affordable, convenient, inclusive, and sustainable.

When you join Modo you still own a car — in fact, you own a whole fleet of them. You just share them with other members. So you get all the benefits of collective car ownership while freeing yourself from private ownership, which is expensive and inefficient.

Modo Child seats

Modo is here to help your family get where you need to be, when you need to be. Because we know your little ones are growing fast, our child seat model is flexible and can be used by kids from one to six years old. 

To find the closest Modo equipped with a child seat, start a new booking, and select “Child Seat” in the “Required Features” menu.

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