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No booster seat? Canadians put their kids at risk: safety group

Many Canadian parents may be putting their child at risk of "severe injury" by failing to use booster seats in cars, according to a new report by a national safety group.

Only 30 per cent of Canadian children who should be using a booster seat actually do so, according to a new survey released this week by Safe Kids Canada. This means nearly two million Canadian children are being put in harm's way when they ride in a car, the group's report said.

Despite this, the vast majority of parents say they support the use of booster seats, and four out of five agree the use of booster seats should be made mandatory by law.

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Typically, children who require booster seats are those who have outgrown a car seat but are too small to use a seatbelt. Using seatbelts alone in small children can result in "life-threatening injuries" to the neck, spine and internal organs in the event of a crash, because the belt cuts across the child's neck and rides up the abdomen, Safe Kids Canada said.

Booster seats are small seats that raise children up so that they are better protected by an adult seatbelt. Booster seats protect against serious injury 3.5 times better than seatbelts alone, according to Ontario's Ministry of Transportation.

Canada has a patchwork system of laws regarding booster seats. Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut don't have mandatory booster seat laws for children under 146 centimetres (four feet nine inches) tall, according to Safe Kids Canada.

The group is advocating for a harmonized approach that would make booster seats for small children mandatory across the country.

What is the rule of thumb for using booster seats? Safe Kids Canada provides these four tips:

• Your child is ready for a booster seat when they have outgrown their forward-facing car seat, around the age of four or five, and are less than four feet nine inches tall.

• A booster seat lifts a child up so that the seat belt fits correctly. Make sure to secure both the lap and the shoulder belt properly so that it can hold your child and the booster seat in place during a crash or sudden stop.

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• There are two different types of booster seats that you can use in Canada: a high back booster seat, which provides head and neck protection in cars without head restraints and a no back booster, which is used in cars that have adjustable head restraints.

• Your child may be ready for a seat belt when he or she is at least four feet nine inches, around the time your child reaches age nine, but often older.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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