Stage 4: seat belts

Children can legally use a seat belt when they reach the age, weight or height limits set by regulations in your province or territory. However, children should keep using booster seats if the vehicle seat belt does not fit snuggly on their lap and centered on their shoulder.

It is best to keep your child in a booster seat as long as possible. Don’t transition to this stage unless you’re sure your child has outgrown his or her booster seat, and the seat belt fits.

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How to decide if your child is ready to move to a seat belt

Your child must be able to sit against the seat back with his or her knees bent over the edge of the vehicle seat.

The lap belt must fit snuggly on the hips. This will help the seat belt bring your child to a stop during a sudden stop or crash and helps protect your child from injuries. 

The shoulder belt should sit in the middle of your child’s shoulder because:

  • this is most comfortable for your child
  • this makes it less likely for your child to wiggle out of the belt or put it behind their back
  • this makes the belt less likely to slip off the shoulder during a sudden stop or crash

If your child has outgrown his or her booster seat, but is not yet ready to move on to using the seat belt, you can try to buy a different booster seat that fits.

How to teach your child to buckle up the right way

Read the section of your vehicle user manual that describes how to use the seat belts. Ask your child to sit up against the seat back with his or her head resting on or just in front of the headrest.

Ask your child to pull the belt out and insert the metal tongue into the buckle. Make sure your child uses the correct buckle for his or her seat. If you are unsure which one is for the center seat, look closely and you should see the word center/centre on the buckle. Only use the center buckle when sitting in the center seat.

Once your child has buckled up, show him or her how to:

  • adjust the lap belt so that it fits snuggly on the hips (below the belly)
  • adjust the shoulder belt so it lies on the shoulder 
  • tighten the belt by gently tugging on the shoulder belt at the level of the shoulders or above

Encourage your child to tighten the belt if it becomes less snug.

If your child is wearing bulky winter clothing, help thread the lap belt underneath the jacket so the lap belt is tight on the hips.

Never allow your child or any passenger to place the shoulder belt under their arm or behind their back.

Set a good example – your children are more likely to wear their seat belts if you wear yours.

When can your child sit in the front seat of the car

Always check the age, weight and height limits of the province or territory in which you’re travelling. Most provinces and territories allow children aged 13 years and older to sit in the front seat.

Please keep in mind that all cars have front air bags. These airbags are powerful when they inflate during a crash and can injure children.

When a child aged 13 years or older sits in the front seat:

  • move the seat as far back as possible while leaving enough room for a passenger seated in the rear
  • make sure your child sits up straight against the seat at all times (front passengers shouldn’t be playing with the radio, lean against the door or have their feet up on the dashboard)

Contact Motor Vehicle Safety

Telephone: 1-800-333-0371 (toll-free), 1-613-998-8616 (Ottawa region)
Email: mvs-sa@tc.gc.ca

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