Ontario Car Seat Laws 101: Everything You Need To Know

The Importance Of Using The Right Car Seat

Your children mean more than anything else in the world to you. One of your responsibilities as a parent is ensuring their safety, including their safety on the road. While car seats are the solution, it’s easy to underestimate the difficulty of getting the right one. Having a car seat that’s too big or too small can threaten the child’s safety. Every child is different, and as a result, every child will need a different car seat. While this doesn’t mean you’ll need to build your own child’s car seat from scratch, it does mean you will face some tough decisions when it comes to getting your child the right one. 

Luckily, Ontario car seat laws that have been tried, true and tested for decades are still holding up. Following these will ensure car seat safety for your kids.

What Are The Car Seat Laws in Ontario?

In Ontario, it is not just a mere recommendation that a child is given a proper car seat, it's the law. Those breaking child car seat laws risk fines and demerit point losses. While this might seem scary, they're nothing compared to the horrifying increased risks to your child if an accident were to happen.

You must also remember it's not always as simple as getting one car seat the entire time. As your kid grows, you'll need a newer, bigger car seat to keep your child safe and for you to keep up with the Ontario car seat laws. While this might seem complicated, there are only four stages of Ontario car seat laws, with the fourth being about children in seat belts, meaning that there are only three types of seats that you need to remember. Luckily, there are clear guidelines for each of these.

The exception to this is that children with disabilities often require more specific or niche seats or other equipment.

How Do I Install A Car Seat?

Car seats will come with special instructions that are important for installation, maintenance and other care. While many of these instructions seem apparent, some very important steps would likely be easy to miss or overlook if you're skimming through them. Additionally, most car seats are installed incorrectly, meaning that even if you already have a car seat for your child, it's best to double-check that you got everything right. You must follow the recommendations that the manufacturer provided for your car seat, as they help maximize your child's safety. These instructions may recommend you keep the child in an earlier car seat stage slightly longer than what is legally required according to Ontario car seat laws, and in those cases, please follow the recommendations provided by the car seat's manufacturer.

What Are the Stages of Car Seats?

There are four stages of car seats in Ontario. A combination of factors determines these stages. The most important factor is a child's body weight, but their height and age also impact what Ontario car seat laws say is best for the child.

It is also important to note that each car seat is differently sized and will fit different vehicles in various ways. It is essential to know which car seat is best for your vehicle.

Stage 1: Rear-Facing Car Seat Regulations

Rear-facing child car seats are mandatory from birth until they reach at least 20 pounds (9 kg). They should stay in a rear-facing car seat slightly longer, as you can never be too careful, and most car seats have a maximum weight of slightly above this amount. You must get a car seat before your child is due to ensure you can take them home from the hospital, as you might only be allowed to take your child home with a car seat. 

A rear-facing seat is safer for small children because it helps better keep their heads in place in case of a crash or sudden stop. This is extra important at this stage in their life because their heads are larger in proportion to their bodies, increasing the risk of damage to the spine or head. The middle back seat is the best place for a rear-facing car seat.

Stage 2: Front-Facing Car Seat Regulations

If your child weighs more than 20 pounds (9 kg) but less than 40 pounds (18 kg), Ontario car seat laws allow them to sit in a forward-facing car seat without issue. This allows them to sit facing the same direction as the rest of the passengers. A forward-facing seat also requires specific extra steps in the installation process, including a five-point harness or tether strap. Every seat is different, but each will have instructions on how to install it properly.

As with rear-facing child car seats, a front-facing child car seat benefits from being in the correct seating position: the middle back seat.

Stage 3: Booster Seat Regulations

Once your child weighs 40 pounds (18 kg), they can begin to use a booster seat. A booster seat is much easier to install, but you should still follow the instructions provided. At this point in a child's physical development, they are large enough to handle the starting and stopping but are still too small for the design of the traditional car seat and seat belt. The purpose of the booster seat is to make this a non-issue.

The booster seat should come with additional guidelines as to whether or not the manufacturer recommends you do this. If the child can not comfortably and safely fit in a regular seatbelt on a standard seat, they should remain in the booster seat.

Stage 4: Seat Belt Regulations

Once a child reaches either the age of 8, a weight of 80 pounds (36 kg), or a height of 145 cm (4 feet, 9 inches), and the seat belt fits snugly across the child's hips and chest, with the child able to bend their knees at the end of the vehicle seat, they can sit in the vehicle without a car seat. If the child cannot sit still and upright for the entire trip, they should remain in a booster seat, even if they meet the other requirements. It should be noted that the driver is the one legally responsible for ensuring children under the age of 16 are wearing their seat belts properly, and it is recommended that children do not sit in the front seat until they are 13 years old due to the danger presented by active airbags.

Like Ontario car seat laws, seat belt laws for children are universal. As apparent as it would seem to many, you mustn't forget that each passenger in the vehicle and the driver should always wear a seatbelt. It’s also essential to keep your seat belts maintained and don't have any twists. Having a broken seat belt can lead to penalties, even if it is unoccupied.

What Should I Look For When Buying A Car Seat?

Not all car seats will fit children of all builds, meaning that even if you comply with Ontario car seat laws, your child might still not be in the right seat for them. While looking at the labels and packaging of a car seat can assist in finding one that's the right one for your kid, reading reviews for car seats you are interested in, asking store employees, and speaking to friends or family who have had kids recently are also helpful. You also need to know your child's height and weight to help make the optimal decision.

There are also both pros and cons to online shopping and in-store shopping. In-store often allows you to ask more questions of employees, see display models, and more. Although this is not universal, some places will allow you to test a model before purchase to ensure that your child finds it comfortable. Online shopping gives a much more extensive selection of seats, meaning it may be your only choice if you're after a specific make or model. Weigh this decision carefully.

It’s also important to remember that a more expensive car seat doesn't always mean it’s safer. However, this doesn't mean a more expensive seat is always wrong. A more expensive model might be more straightforward to install properly and could last longer, meaning it’s not a waste of money.

It is also important to note that some parents prefer more specialized seats at each stage in their child's development, while others prefer an all-in-one approach, opting for a car seat that can work at multiple stages. Both have pros and cons, so it is best to choose the one that's right for your situation.

How Long Are Car Seats Good For?

As stable as car seats seem, they unfortunately can't last forever. This is generally due to wear and tear over time and minor damages from possible sudden stops. Things such as wildly fluctuating temperatures indoors and out, the strain of having a child sit in it for long periods, materials slowly losing their durability, and more. 

There is no hard and fast rule regarding how long a car seat will last. It's commonly estimated that car seats will last anywhere from 7-10 years, but due to many factors, this does change from make to make. Most seats have an expiry date listed, and using one past its expiration date violates Ontario car seat laws. It is also important to note that if a car seat is involved in a collision, it immediately expires. However, using one does not impact your car insurance.

Is It Safe To Use A Second Hand Car Seat?

Buying a second-hand seat means you might not know the age or history of the new seat, and you don’t know if it’s been in an accident, thoroughly worn out, or otherwise in violation of Ontario car seat laws. The only exception to this is if you have two children very close to each other in age. If the seat you used for the elder child is still in good condition and hasn't been in a crash or otherwise expired, you can re-use the seat for their younger sibling.

This content is written by our Morison Insurance team. All information posted is merely for educational and informational purposes. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Should you decide to act upon any information in this article, you do so at your own risk. While the information on this website has been verified to the best of our abilities, we cannot guarantee that there are no mistakes or errors.

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