Long gone are the days when piling the kids into the car was a literal thing. Many baby boomers may recall finding seat belts unused and buried in the gap between bench seat and back support. Families with station wagons thought nothing of children running loose in the back. Not only are seat belts mandatory for all passengers now, Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act has specific laws in place for children of various ages, heights and weights.

How to Identify a Legal Child Car Seat

The easiest way to know if a car seat complies with safety laws is to check for the National Safety Mark label, affixed to the seat itself. The label will resemble the one with the green maple leaf, as shown above. While this assures the seat is approved, you’re still required to correctly match the seat to your child and to ensure the car seat is attached and used properly.

Car seats now come with a “best before” date, to help a parent know when it’s time to retire an outdated device. This is particularly appropriate when a car seat is handed down. Federal standards for child seats changed January 1, 2012, so older seats may not comply with current laws.

Newborn and Infant Seats

Very young children have large head and weak necks, so extra support is essential in case of an accident. Rear-facing seats installed in the back seat protect the baby’s head and neck in a front-end collision and ensure that the front seat air bags won’t affect the child or the seat in the event of deployment.

Rear-facing seats are required until the child reaches 9 kg, or about 20 lbs. It’s a minimum requirement, so your child’s seat may have other weight and height maximums set by the manufacturer, and it’s okay to use the seat until these limits are met.

Seats for Toddlers

The Highway Traffic Act mandates front-facing car seats for children weighing between 9 and 18 kg, about 20 to 40 lbs. Once again, you can use front-facing seats for heavier children, as long as they are within the manufacturer’s guidelines for both weight and height.

Booster Seats

Booster Seat

This child safety seat serves as a transition between car seats and adult use of the car’s seat belts. Used in combination with your car’s belts, boosters provide over three times more protection than seat belts alone for children in the right weight, age and height class.

Booster seats are required if these three criteria are met:

  • The child is under 8 years old;
  • The child weighs between 18 and 36 kg (40 to 80 lbs.)
  • The child is less than 145 cm (4 ft. and 9 in. tall)

Regular Seat Belts

Once a child exceeds any of the booster seat maximums, she’s ready for seat belts alone if she can also sit against the back of the seat with her legs bent over the seat edge. The car’s belt should sit flat across her chest and should cross at her hips. Once all these conditions are met, your car seat days are over. Until the next child comes along.