As an advocate for car seat safety and a recently-trained Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST), I was honored to be chosen by the Government of Alberta to help parents keep our littlest Albertans safe on the road. You can keep your little ones safe by learning the law and current best practices.
Alberta Motor Vehicle Law:
- Alberta law requires that all occupants travelling in a motor vehicle use a seat belt or child safety device that is properly worn and adjusted.
- The fine for not using a seat belt or child safety seat is $155.
- It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that all passengers under 16 years of age are in an appropriate child restraint or are using their seat belt correctly— failure to do so can result in a fine for each unrestrained passenger.
- All children under 18 kg (40 lb) or under 6 years old must use an appropriate child restraint in a motor vehicle.
Find out more about Alberta law from the Alberta Occupant Restraint Program.
Respecting the law means following your child restraint and vehicle manuals:
Just because your child is wearing a seat belt or is strapped into a seat doesn’t mean you are respecting the law. Alberta law stipulates proper use. All car seats have age, weight and height requirements, as well as specifications for correct installation and usage. All motor vehicles stipulate the correct fit for a seat belt, in the absence of which a child should use a booster.
All vehicle user manuals and safety labels warn that passengers under the age of 13 should always ride in the back seat.
Stage 1: Rear-facing
Rear-facing seats should be used at a minimum until a child is 1 year old and at least 10 kg (22 lb). Keep in mind that this is the bare minimum. Many child restraint manufacturers have stricter requirements, including an age minimum of two years and higher weight minimums. There is no reason to “graduate” your child from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat just because they turn 1: riding rear-facing provides extra protection, and having their legs bent in front of them does not put them at risk.
CPSTs and the American Pediatric Association recommend that children ride rear-facing until at least the age of 2, and you can certainly continue to rear-face your child until they have outgrown the height and weight limits of their rear-facing seat.
Stage 2: Forward Facing
Forward-facing seats with a five-point harness can be used until your child reaches the height or weight maximum set out by the manufacturer. The maximum weight for seats sold in Canada is 29 kg (65 lb), but check your specific seat as some have lower limits. Remember that you are required by law to tether your forward-facing seats in your vehicle.
Children should remain in their forward-facing seats until they are at least 18 kg (40 lb) and have reached the maturity level required for using a booster seat (typically in the range of 5–7 years old).
Stage 3: Booster
Booster seats ensure the adult seat belt is positioned over the strongest bones in a child’s body: the lap belt lies across the hips rather than the soft and vulnerable abdomen, and the shoulder belt lies across the chest thus preventing the upper body from moving forward on impact.
The most important factor in deciding to put your child in a booster seat—once the height, weight and age minimums of the chosen seat are met—is their maturity. Remember the part of Alberta law that stipulates “properly worn and adjusted”? Well, a booster seat’s job is to make sure the seat belt is properly worn and adjusted on children too small to use the vehicle seat belt alone. But this also requires the cooperation of the child. Although many booster seats on the market specify an age minimum of 4, the Government of Alberta and CPSTs recommend booster seats for children 6 and up. This is because the child must be responsible enough to sit properly in their booster seat for the entire ride: no leaning forward, no reaching down to the floor, no tucking their shoulder belt behind them, no randomly deciding to unbuckle.
A great tip for helping your reluctant older child accept a booster seat is to choose a seat that transforms from a high-back booster to a low-back booster. Hopefully when your child starts to feel “too old” for a car seat, transforming their seat into a more subtle, low-back booster will help. There are also some very discreet low-back boosters on the market designed to keep bigger kids safe … and happy.
Stage 4: Adult Seat Belt
The key to deciding if a child can sit safely with just the adult seat belt is not so much age, but size. The child needs to fit the adult seat belt in order to be protected.
Proper seat belt fit is assessed with these criteria:
- They are at least 145 cm (4 feet 9 inches) tall.
- Their knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat when sitting all the way back.
- The lap belt stays low and snug across the hip bones.
- The shoulder belt crosses the chest and stays between the child’s neck and shoulder.
- They can sit like this for the whole trip without slouching.
Children are typically between ages 9-11 when they fit an adult seat belt properly, but this will vary greatly from child to child, and at times from vehicle to vehicle.
Find out more about Seat Belts for Children & Youth
Using a child restraint or a seat belt correctly saves lives:
- Without a properly used booster seat, a child is 3.5 times more likely to suffer significant injury in a collision.
- Unrestrained occupants put everyone in the vehicle at risk in a collision.
- Unrestrained occupants can be ejected from the vehicle and onto the road, or can collide with other vehicles or guardrails.
- Remember that following a collision, child restraints need to be replaced.
- Be cautious when purchasing a second-hand child restraint. Here is a great checklist if you are thinking of purchasing one.
- Remember to check the expiry date on your child restraints and register with the manufacturer to keep informed of any recalls.
If you have questions about your child restraints, don’t hesitate to reach out to a CPST certified by the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada.