Starting April 18, 2019, Quebec will have a new booster law:
A child must measure 1.45 metres (4’9″) OR be 9 years old to ride in a vehicle without a booster seat.
As it currently stands, a child with a seated height (top of head to bum) measurement of 63 cm (24.8″) can ride without a booster. That means my above-average-height son who is only 6.5 years old would have been a mere 3 cm away from being legally able to ride without a booster.
Note that booster laws vary across the country, and my province of Alberta doesn’t even have one, so I’m definitely a bit jealous of this new legislation in my former home province, even if it doesn’t quite go far enough.
Quebec joins the ranks of BC, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador who all recognize that under 1.45 m (4’9″), most children cannot safely fit the adult seat belt.
However, all of these provinces still allow for a child shorter than 1.45 m but over 9 years old (8 in Ontario) to say buh-bye to the booster. (Prince Edward Island stipulates an age of 10.)
|Province/Territory||Must use a booster (or suitable child restraint) until:|
|British Columbia||9 years old OR 1.45 m (4’9″) tall|
|Alberta||No booster law, but technically provincial law stipulates proper seat belt use and fit|
|Saskatchewan||7 years old OR until 36 kg (80 lb) AND 1.45 m (4’9″)|
|Manitoba||9 years old OR until 36 kg (80 lb) OR 1.45 m (4’9″)|
|Ontario||8 years old OR until 36 kg (80 lb) OR 1.45 m (4’9″)|
|Quebec||9 years old OR 1.45 m (4’9″) tall (effective April 19, 2019)|
|New Brunswick||9 years old OR until 36 kg (80 lb) OR 1.45 m (4’9″)|
|Nova Scotia||9 years old OR 1.45 m (4’9″)|
|Prince Edward Island||10 years old OR 1.45 m (4’9″) OR exceeds manufacturer’s weight limit|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||9 years old OR until 37 kg (81.5 lb) AND 1.45 m (4’9″)|
|Yukon||1.45 m (4’9″) OR 45 kg (100 lb)|
|Northwest Territories||No booster law|
|Nunavut||No booster law|
Is 9 old enough to ditch the booster?
Turning 9 (or 10) doesn’t magically make a child safe with just the adult seat belt restraining them. Being the right size so that the seat belt sits properly on their body so that it can do its job—and not cause further injury—is what makes a child safe with just the adult seat belt.
There’s a reason that 9-year-olds don’t shop for “Size 9 Years” clothing: all 9-year-olds are different sizes. A 9-year-old boy in the 50th percentile is about 4’6″ tall, which is 3″ shy of the 4’9″ mark when most kids can achieve a safe belt fit. Keep in mind that some kids may reach that height but still not fit the seat belt properly in all vehicles.
An improperly fitted seat belt has severe consequences in a collision, as explained by SafeRide4Kids: the child is “propelled into the back of the front seat, the dash or windshield, another passenger or […] thrown out of the vehicle via a window or sunroof.”
Children too small for the adult seat belt wear the lap portion of the belt over the fragile, soft tissue of their stomachs instead of over their more sturdy and protective hipbones. Many put the shoulder portion of the belt behind their body or under their arm to prevent it from chafing against their neck. In a collision this leads to abdominal, spinal and/or head injuries.
Regardless of the year on their birth certificate, a child too small for the adult seat belt but legally allowed to ride without a booster still risks what doctors refer to as seat belt syndrome, with common injuries such as a lacerated liver, spleen or bowel, a ruptured bladder, and internal bleeding. Sorry to be graphic, but it’s a fact.
But my best friend’s auntie’s ex-boyfriend’s mother-in-law is only 4″ tall: I guess she needs a booster! ROFL!
Yes. Short adults ride in cars. And no, most of them do not use any modifications to improve their seat belt fit. However, short adults have fully ossified bones better equipped to protect their vital organs in a collision. Also, adults are the masters of their domains: they can choose to ride in a vehicle even if their security is less than optimal. But the reality is, we really do need to improve safety testing for smaller adults, who are usually (but not always!) females.
Go beyond the law
So here’s the thing: you should not need a law to make sure your child is protected from preventable injury or death in a passenger vehicle. The second leading cause of injury-related death in children is drowning. Do you need a law to stop you from tossing your non-swimming child into the deep end and walking away? If you do, I am surprised you’ve read this far anyway.
Any time legislation is passed that increases child passenger safety, there are dissenting voices (including those of some parents), making sarcastic comments about how we should just keep our kids in bubbles, and there’s always someone recalling how they rode in the back of their dad’s pick-up truck on the highway and they survived. (Hint: we don’t need bubbles, we have improved child restraint technology, and the people who died unrestrained in their parents’ car are too dead to talk about it on social media.)
There are tons of risks we must let our children take because taking those risks teaches life skills: climbing trees, swimming, using a knife to prepare dinner, starting a camp fire, walking to school alone, using the internet, eating grapes not cut in half. Our kids need to learn the life skills required for evaluating and responding to risks—risks over which they have a measure of control.
But letting a child ride in a vehicle without a booster seat when they are not the right size to achieve a proper belt fit (or letting them ride in a child restraint that is incorrect for their age or size, or otherwise improperly used) is not teaching them anything about risk, it’s putting them at unnecessary risk.
But I’m a safe driver
Are some collisions unsurvivable? Sadly, yes. But does the proper restraint, including a booster seat, improve a child’s chances of survival and reduce the severity of potential injury? Absolutely. You might be the world’s safest driver, but if you’re a safe driver then you’re likely keenly aware of how unsafe the rest of the idiots on the road are.
And lest we forget, a car crash is not some overblown or fabricated risk to our children like a YouTube monster whispering self-harm instructions.
A car crash is something pretty much everyone who gets in a vehicle on a semi-regular basis will experience at some point in their lives. A 2007 Statistics Canada analysis concluded that motor vehicle traffic collisions were the leading cause of injury death in children ages 1 to 14 and the second leading cause of injury death in infants under one year. In 2016 for these same age groups, Canada had over 8000 reported injuries from motor vehicle traffic collisions and more than 50 deaths. As a 2018 Macleans’ article put it, “The chance of winning Lottery 6/49 is one in 13,983,800. It’s far likelier your kid will be killed in a car accident—in 2014, one out of every 121,400 kids aged 0 to 14 died after being in a collision.” Most parents have double-checked a lottery ticket more times than they’ve had their children’s car seats checked.
Do something today
The risk is real; the solution is easy. A booster seat for an older child can be as inexpensive as $10. If you’re not sure if your child needs a booster seat, or want helping picking the right one for your child and your vehicle, find a Child Passenger Safety Technician near you.
And while I have your attention, children under 13 need to ride in the back seat.
Booster seat resources:
- Tech-recommended Booster Seat List
- Harness or Booster? How to Decide
- Booster Seat Safety Check
- Seat Belt Safety Check
- Great article en français by a fellow tech