As the weather gets colder, the snow starts to fly and the roads get even trickier to navigate, most Canadians immediately think about getting their snow tires on. But safety measures you take inside the car are just as important as they are on the outside, especially when you have kids on board. And while all car seats need to pass various tests from Transport Canada before being made available, it’s a good idea to look for one that exceeds Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

A survey conducted by Graco of 500 Canadian parents, hosted on Angus Reid Forum, suggests that we do drive more cautiously after having kids, whether they are with us or not. And when our young kids are with us, they’re in car seats. But are they in the right car seats, and are they correctly installed? We know that the only safe car seat is one that is installed properly.

The survey also found that nearly half of Canadian parents find car seat standards confusing and a quarter do not feel well informed on the topic. After reading the car seat manual prior to first time use, there are also six simple steps you can follow to make sure your car seat is installed correctly. You might want to print these out and post them on the car seat, as children are known to grow. Check their car seat periodically as they do.

1) Harness check. For children riding rear-facing, the harness height should be at or below the child’s shoulders. For forward-facing riders, it should sit at or above the child’s shoulders. Check as your child grows.

2) Pinch test. When tightening the harness straps, check next to your child’s collarbone to ensure you unable to pinch any excess slack in the straps.
3) Chest clip. The chest clip should be level with your child’s armpits. Check every time.
4) One-inch test. Make sure the car seat can’t move more than one-inch side to side or front to back. If it does, reinstall for a more secure fit.

5) 80/20 rule. Make sure the base of the car seat is a minimum of 80% on the vehicle seat. Some car seat manufacturers have labels clearly marking the 80%.

6) Switching to forward facing too soon. Transport Canada says that rear-facing car seats are the safest position and they should stay in that position while they are below the height and weight limits. Some car seats, like Graco’s Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat, feature a four-position extension panel that provides five inches of extra legroom rear-facing, allowing children to safely ride rear facing longer. Seeing their adorable faces while you are driving just doesn’t measure up versus making sure they are in the safest position possible.

An extra concern in the winter months is considering the child’s winter clothing. While we want to keep our kids warm, bulky jackets can interfere with the harness and cause the buckles to be too loose and therefore unsafe. Secure your child in their car seat, and then cover your child with a coat or a blanket once they are buckled in, and skip the winter jacket while driving.

Family road trips have all kinds of challenges, especially in the winter; making sure your child is in the right car seat, installed properly, doesn’t have to be one of them.

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