What COVID-19 has taught us about long-term care
Building an equal future for women in Atlantic Canada
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
SPECIAL REPORT: Facets of family violence
Have you tried the SaltWire News app?
UPDATED: COVID-19 news and numbers
Continuing coverage: Mass shooting in Nova Scotia
What's working for businesses in 2021?
Since 1987, in Canada, you cannot purchase a booster seat for your child if they weigh less than 40 pounds (18 kilograms). This means they still belong in a tethered car seat. This means you should not put your child in a booster seat if they weigh less than that. Boosters should never be used with only a lap belt.
In the U.S., where nearly all manufacturers of child booster seats are based, the law allows them to be advertised and sold for children weighing as little as 30 pounds (13.6 kg). In 2016, Dorel stopped selling at the 30-pound lower rate. Canada has issued three recalls against industry giant Evenflo (in 2006, 2008, and 2012) because of incorrect labeling. Considering how many automotive products we share safety requirements with the U.S. on, this point matters.
Jalopnik recently pushed this back into the public eye, but the ProPublica report from February should have made more noise than it did. Booster seats are not rare; for nearly two decades now, parents have been required to keep their kids in one of the devices until they reach at least age eight, though sometimes as old as 12 depending on their physical size.
“Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act requires children weighing 18 kg to 36 kg (40 to 80 lbs), standing less than 145 cm (4 ft. 9 in.) tall and who are under the age of 8 to use a booster seat,” reads the legislation. Alberta has a handy checklist you can use for reference.
Please check what the regulations are in your province.
Stunning video in the ProPublica piece reinforces why parents need to remain vigilant about something it is easy to get fatigued by: getting older kids to safely buckle up. Booster seats are like the Wild West of consistency when it comes to safety requirements.
Manufacturers make their own tests. Unlike the crash-testing performed by agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with various sizes of dummies in seatbelt restraints and airbags and anchored child safety seats, boosters languish in a no-man’s-land that could give parents and guardians a false sense of security.
The issue is with side-impact collisions, which account for about 25 per cent of all crashes, and “which were responsible for more than a quarter of deaths of children under 15 killed in vehicle collisions in 2018.” Because booster seats are secured only by the seat belt, instead of being tethered to the car like those seats for smaller children, there is nothing preventing the seat itself from taking flight in the event of a side-impact incident.
Boosters are used to bring a shoulder-and-lap belt to the proper placement over a smaller person. Some have more extensive headrests and bolstering sides, though many are just a wedge.
In 2012, an Evenflo engineer, Eric Dahle, told his superiors the company should be aligning its guidelines with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as Canada’s, where they sell their product with the requirement a child not be under 40 pounds.
“A marketing executive ‘vetoed’ Dahle’s safety recommendation, an internal Evenflo record shows. Later that year, the subject came up again,” explains ProPublica. “The same executive, who had been promoted to vice-president of marketing and product development, expressed his exasperation. ‘Why are we even talking about this?’ he wrote in an email, adding, ‘I have looked at 40 lbs for the U.S. numerous times and will not approve this.’”
That magazine’s investigative report just gets more and more damning. “Not only did it sell its seats for children under 40 pounds, but Evenflo touted its Big Kid boosters as ‘SIDE IMPACT TESTED’ without revealing that its own tests showed a child seated in its booster could be in grave danger in such a crash.”
If the NHTSA doesn’t implement booster seat requirements, these companies will make their own. “Evenflo’s business plan for the Big Kid, which focused on mothers as the key purchasers, determined they did little research on booster seats. ‘Because all seats have to meet Federal safety standards, most moms feel that all seats have relatively the same level of safety,’” Pro Publica quotes the company.
“Consequently, price and aesthetics drive the purchase.” It’s fine to target your product to your audience, but that audience needs to know what went into those “safety” standards.
If the labeling in the U.S. differs from that in Canada, why should we care? Because like nearly every product available in the North American market, it can be difficult to discern subtle differences if you’re ordering online or, pre-COVID, shopping across the border. The product may be identical, save for the labeling that reflects our regulations.
That’s an important point. The fine print can be confusing; one booster, for example, correctly outlines the 40-pound weight regulation but appears to say it can be used at four years of age. With so many of these devices now purpose-built to serve your child from birth to when they no longer need a seat, you need to know when to make the changes safely. Side airbags are a great improvement, but check your owner’s manual — some manufacturers say your child shouldn’t lean against the window, the way kids fall asleep.
Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Automotive Safety in the U.S. that has been pushing for tighter restrictions, says “small children are safer in child seats, followed by booster seats, than without them. Rear side-impact airbags can have a life-saving effect for passengers in the back of vehicles regardless of age.”
“However, there is a lot to be concerned about when it comes to child seat safety and the marketing of these products … As recently highlighted by the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee report, far side collisions pose an extreme risk to children in booster seats particularly when they are in a booster seat instead of the properly sized child seat.”
You want what’s safest for your child, at any age. Make sure the manufacturer you choose has the same priority.