While no parent would intentionally put their child in harm's way, it's estimated that half of all kids under the age of 8 in Saskatchewan aren't properly restrained when they're in a vehicle.
The results can be devastating. From 2011 to 2015, on average 6 children were injured in vehicle collisions because they were not properly secured in a child restraint. Another 47 were hurt from seatbelts that were inappropriate for their size.
So how do parents ensure that their precious cargo is properly restrained in a vehicle? The answer depends on many factors including the child's age and weight. But there are some basic guidelines every parent should follow.
Babies up to 16 kg (35 lb) should be placed in a rear-facing car seat. These restraint systems are secured with a seatbelt or Universal Attachment System (UAS).
The seat's harness should be tight, so that only 1 finger slides between the straps and the child's chest. It's important to keep the chest clip level with the infant's underarms and, if the seat has a handle, always ensure it is in the position required by the manufacturer while in the vehicle.
Don't install the infant restraint too upright. The recline could cause a newborn's head to flop forward and block their airway. Instead, ensure that the restraint reclines in a vehicle the same as it does on a flat surface. An easy way to correct the angle is to place a rolled towel or a length of swimming noodle under the front of the car seat.
Children should remain in rear-facing seats until they reach the maximum weight recommended by the manufacturer for that seating position. When they are ready they can be moved to face forward. Forward-facing seats, or convertible car seats, are designed for kids between about 9 and 30 kilograms (20 to 65 lb).
The base of a toddler seat is held in place by a seatbelt or UAS. The top is secured by a tether strap, which attaches to an anchor bolt in the vehicle. As with infant seats, the harness straps should be tight and the chest clip should be level with the child's underarms.
The next category of kids - those that are 7 years old and between 18 to 36 kg (40 to 80 lb) - is 1 of the most overlooked when it comes to restraints. These children are too small to safely use a seatbelt. The solution is a restraint called a booster seat.
Booster seats work by elevating children so the seatbelt fits over their shoulder, chest and hips. Without that elevation the seatbelt would rest on a child's neck and abdomen, putting them at risk of internal injuries in the event of a collision.
A child is ready for a seatbelt when it fits over the middle of their shoulder and across their chest. It should never rest on their neck. The lap portion of the seatbelt should sit low on the child's hips, not across their stomach. It's also important that they be able to comfortably bend their knees over the edge of the vehicle seat and have their back touching the vehicle seat back.
With these pointers in mind, you can be sure that your child is getting the maximum benefit from a seatbelt.
Regardless of your child's age, be sure to read the instructions that come with their car seat to ensure it's properly fitted and installed. Having the installation done by a trained technician is the surest way to know it's done correctly.