Choosing a child safety seat

It is the law in Alberta that a driver must ensure children under the age of 16 are properly restrained. In addition, research has found that child safety seats can reduce the risk of serious and fatal injury by around 60 to 70%. Your child needs to use the most appropriate child safety seat to get the most safety benefit. Learn how to choose what kind of child safety seat your child should be using.

Rear-facing car seat (birth until at least 2 years)

A child is safest in a rear-facing car seat until they:

  • are at least 2 years old, or
  • reach the maximum weight or height limit for the rear-facing seat (as stated by the manufacturer)

Rear-facing car seats keep your child in the safest position. In a rear-facing car seat, the momentum of a sudden stop will press the child backward into the car seat.

Use this kind of car seat for as long as you can. Consider looking for a rear-facing car seat with weight and height limits that go beyond the average for age 2.

Forward-facing car seat (at least 2 years until at least 6 years or 40 lbs)

By law in Alberta, children under the age of 6 who weigh 18 kg (40 lbs) or less must be in a child safety seat.

Your child should be in a forward-facing car seat once they:

  • are at least 2 years old, or
  • reach the maximum height or weight limit for their rear-facing car seat

Your child should use the forward-facing car seat until they:

  • are at least 6 years old, or
  • weigh more than 18 kg (40 lbs) and have reached the maximum height or weight limit for the car seat (as stated by the manufacturer)

Booster seat (at least 6 years or 40lbs until a seat belt fits)

Booster seats are not required by law in Alberta. Drivers must ensure children aged 6 to 15 or who weigh more than 40lbs wear a seat belt. However, booster seats are highly recommended because they help position a child so the shoulder-lap belt fits across the child's chest and hips, rather than their neck and stomach.

Your child should be in a booster seat once they:

  • are 6 years old, or
  • weigh more than 18kg (40lbs) and has reached the maximum height or weight limit for their forward-facing car seat

Your child should remain in the booster seat until they:

  • reach the maximum height, or
  • weight limit for the booster seat (as stated by the manufacturer) and a seat belt fits properly

Seat belt

Your child is ready to use a seat belt when the vehicle's seat belt fits properly. This is typically when a child is at least 145 cm (4’9”) tall and between 8 and 12 years of age.

The seat belt fits when:

  • the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat when they are sitting against the back of the seat
  • the shoulder belt crosses the chest and stays between the child's neck and shoulder (not between the chin and neck)
  • the lap belt crosses the child's hips (not the stomach)

Children are safest and should remain in the backseat until they are at least 13 years old.

Purchasing a child safety seat

When used correctly, child safety seats save lives and reduce the severity of injuries. But research has found that across Canada, misuse rates range from 44 to 81% for car seats and 30 to 50% for booster seats. Here are some tips for purchasing the right car seat or booster seat.

Tips for purchasing a safety seat

  • Make sure your child is below the maximum weight and height limits for the child seat.
  • Make sure the child seat fits your child and your vehicle and is easy for you to use. If possible, try it in your vehicle before purchasing or make sure it can be returned or exchanged if it does not fit.
  • Check whether the model of child seat you are considering has ever been recalled.
  • Avoid buying a used child seat. Never use a child seat that has been in a collision.

Installing a child safety seat

  • Read the directions that came with the child seat. If you cannot find them, you may be able to find them online.
  • Read the child seat section of your vehicle manual. If you do not have a physical copy, you can look it up online.

Rear-facing car seat

  1. Always install in the back seat. The front seat has an airbag, which is very powerful and can hurt a child when it inflates.
  2. Confirm (in the safety seat and vehicle manuals) whether your car seat should be installed using a universal anchorage system (UAS) or using a seat belt.
  3. Check your vehicle manual for the location of the UAS lower anchor bars or how to lock the seat belt to use with a car seat. If the seat belt does not lock, use a belt lock or locking clip.
  4. Make sure the UAS belt or seat belt goes through the rear-facing belt path on the car seat (or removable base) and is clipped or buckled up.
  5. Push down on the car seat (or removable base) and pull the UAS belt or seat belt tight.
  6. The car seat should move less that 2.5 cm (1") in any direction. If it is loose, push down again on the car seat and tighten the belt. Using a knee to push on the car seat can help.
  7. Check the harness for a good fit. The chest clip should be at the level of the child's armpits. The harness straps should be snug. If you can slide a finger underneath but cannot pinch a fold in the harness strap, the fit is good.

Forward-facing car seat

  1. Always install in the back seat. The front seat has an airbag, which is very powerful and can hurt a child when it inflates.
  2. Confirm (in the safety seat and vehicle manuals) whether your car seat should be installed using a universal anchorage system (UAS) or using a seat belt.
  3. Check your vehicle manual for the location of the UAS lower anchor bars or for how to lock the seat belt to use with a car seat. If the seat belt does not lock, use a belt lock or locking clip.
  4. Also check your vehicle manual for the location of the top tether anchor.
  5. Make sure the UAS belt or seat belt goes through the forward-facing belt path on the car seat (or removable base) and is clipped or buckled up.
  6. Push down on the car seat (or removable base) and pull the UAS belt or seat belt tight. Hook the car seat's top tether strap to the tether anchor and pull tight.
  7. The car seat should move less that 2.5cm (1") in any direction. If it is loose, push down again on the car seat and tighten the belt. Then tighten the top tether strap again.
  8. Check the harness for a good fit. The chest clip should be at the level of the child's armpits. The harness straps should be snug. If you can slide a finger underneath but cannot pinch a fold in the harness strap, the fit is good.

Booster seat

  1. A booster seat must be used with a lap-shoulder seat belt.
  2. If the spot in the vehicle where the booster seat will be installed does not have a head rest, choose a high back booster seat to provide the child with head and neck support. If the spot does have a head rest, choose either a high back or a backless booster seat.
  3. Always install in the back seat. The front seat has an airbag, which is very powerful and can hurt a child when it inflates.
  4. When sitting in the booster seat, the child should be able to sit up straight with their back against the seat back and their knees bent over the edge of the booster seat.
  5. Check the seat belt for a good fit. The shoulder belt should cross the child's chest (not their neck) and the lap belt should cross their hips (not their stomach). If the booster seat has a shoulder belt guide, make sure to use it to get a good fit for the shoulder belt.