I still remember a time before seat belts. A time which may or may not have included sitting on the opened back window/door of my Dad’s wood paneled Country Squire station wagon. A time known as the 1970s, and also a time of many accidents and injuries.

With the introduction of mandatory seat belts almost 40 years ago, and the development of state of the art and regulated car seats, parents now have a legal obligation to go along with their moral one, to ensure their children are secured as safely as possible in their vehicles.

Nowadays, parents are not allowed to take a baby from a hospital without a certified car seat. Once you are a parent you better get used to hauling a car seat around as your child will spend quite a few years in one before they are eligible to ride in the car without one.

You should buy your car seat in Canada, and make sure it fits current regulations which can be found on Transport Canada’s website. You also look for the “expiry date” on the car seat they’re buying (yes, they expire) to make sure it will last for as long as the child (and potentially future siblings) will need it. You should also be wary of used car seats, as their safety may be compromised if they are older, have been in previous accidents, or have been damaged in any way.

Any grandparents, babysitters, or others who may have your child, traveling in their vehicle, at any time should also be familiarized with your car seat and the regulations.

Maureen Dennis, a certified car seat technician with the Chevrolet Safe and Sure Child Car Installation Workshops, outlines the four basics stages for car seats:

Stage 1 – Rear facing: This stage lasts from birth to a minimum of one year old. You want to keep your child facing to the rear past a year if you can and they must be walking unassisted before you can consider the next stage.

Stage 2 – Forward facing: Your child will move to Stage 2 somewhere between one- and five- years-old depending on things like their height and weight. This is the longest stage so make sure you are aware of your particular car seat’s height and weight restrictions.

Stage 3 – Booster seat: This stage begins when your child reaches a minimum of 40 pounds, usually this occurs around four- or five-years-old. It is important not to rush your child into a booster seat though, as their height and weight are crucial to the safe fit of a seatbelt. When your booster seat is not in use, be sure to strap it in, to prevent it from becoming a potential hazard in your automobile.

Stage 4: moving into a seatbelt: Around the age of eight or nine, if your child is a minimum of 80 pounds, and a height of 57 inches, then your child is ready to move off of that booster seat and onto the regular seat with a seatbelt.

Kids are often anxious to move out of a booster seat to a “real” seat, but if they are smaller than their friends, and still below the height or weight requirements, you’ll need to keep them safe, over trying to make them happy.