Updated December 2019.
This information is modified to be Canada-specific from a guideline developed by the Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety.
What is a CPST?
Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs) are people across Canada who have successfully completed the national training program offered by the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC). This course is approximately 20 hours long and involves classroom learning combined with in-vehicle practice to learn the basics of child passenger safety.
The role of a CPST is to provide education and support, acting as a skilled coach to empower caregivers to keep their kids safe in the car. CPSTs may not have the answers to all of your questions, but they do have a large cross-Canada network of other CPSTs to reach out to, as well as manufacturer contacts for brand-specific inquiries. The car seat check experience is an interactive one. This means you will be participating to the best of your abilities! As the caregiver, you should leave feeling confident that your child’s seat is installed correctly and that you are comfortable reinstalling and using it correctly. To ensure that you have the best experience you should prepare for a hands-on education session.
CPSTs are involved in child passenger safety in many different ways. Some do this work as part of their jobs, such as public health, law enforcement, or family resource centres; some are community volunteers who dedicate their time and knowledge providing a community service; and some provide one-on-one seat check sessions for a fee as part of their own small business.
Don’t be afraid to card your tech, and ask to see proof of their current certification. If the technician is not a CPSAC tech ask what their qualifications, certification, and experience are, and ensure they are both knowledgeable and up to date.
Who should meet with a CPST?
Anyone who transports kids. Are you a parent, grandparent, daycare provider, volunteer driver, carpooler, or caregiver of any other kind? Chances are (laws vary by province) that the driver is the one responsible for ensuring that child passengers are properly buckled up, regardless of whose kids they are, who installed the seat, or who put the child into the seat.
What does a seat check cost?
That depends on how the CPST is doing their work. If you have access to a CPST in your community through a public service or other resource, there may be no charge to you because their employer is funding the program.
Some technicians set a flat rate for a seat check, or charge on a sliding scale depending on need. There is no employer funding their work, and so they charge a fee for their time, expenses, and knowledge.
Sometimes CPSTs will organize a community car seat clinic event, and often those in attendance are volunteering their time. They may ask for a donation from caregivers to fund the service. Sometimes they have received sponsorship from a supporting organization or business. We love community partners!
Some technicians work strictly as volunteers, providing supplies out of their own pocket. Some will accept tips or donations to purchase things such as pool noodles and photocopies, and would certainly appreciate small tokens of appreciation from you such as a coffee card or cash tip.
Ask about cost when making arrangements to meet with a technician. Many have websites and will list their fees, or state up front there is no charge.
Before Your Seat Check
Seek the help of a CPST before you even purchase a seat. There are many online groups and sources to help with shopping advice. Do your research and connect with CPSTs who provide helpful, thoughtful advice that is based on your needs and wants. They may ask questions to guide your purchase that you never thought to consider. There are great seats available at all price points and CPSTs want you to be happy with what you choose.
If you have any tricky seating situations — tiny car and tall parents, many children to fit, something else — taking the time to buy the right seat is especially important. If you are car shopping, read this first.
If you are pregnant, schedule an appointment 1 to 2 months prior to your due date. Many CPSAC technicians work as volunteers and have their own families and jobs to work around, and some moms deliver early. Several CPSTs we know have completed seat checks while mom is in labour, or get a panicked call from a partner that the baby came early and they need help right now because baby is being discharged in two hours. Please don’t leave things to the very end!
Read Your Manuals – Both of Them!
We can not overstate the importance of this step. One of the most helpful parts of meeting with a CPST is interpreting and understanding your car seat manual and your vehicle manual. They can be confusing – but have a read through in advance so you are somewhat familiar with what is involved.
Using the car seat manual, install the seat into your vehicle prior to your appointment. If you do not have a manual, contact the manufacturer of your seat prior to your appointment to obtain one. Many have them available online, or can send you a PDF for quick reference on your phone.
Look up “Child Safety Seats” or “Child Restraints” in your vehicle owner’s manual. You will learn how a child’s car seat should be installed in your car. The car seat manual may not reference the requirements specific to your vehicle. If you do not have a vehicle owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer of your vehicle prior to your appointment to obtain one, or check online as many have them easily downloadable.
Bring both manuals with you to your appointment.
Measure Your Child(ren)
Know your child’s weight and height. Bring your child with you to the seat check. If possible, also bring another adult to help watch the child while you are learning. It’s hard to absorb the information and fully participate in a seat check if you’re also chasing kids. Be prepared to learn, not just watch the CPSAC technician install the car seat. They’re trained to teach you, not install it for you. If another adult isn’t possible, plan ahead with snacks, games or toys, or containment devices such as a stroller or baby carrier.
Tidy Your Car
We don’t mean you have to get it detailed. But it’s much easier for everyone to work if you move excess stuff out of your car. The technician — and then you — will be in your vehicle. Move things off the floor and the back seat so there’s space to work. Depending on the type of car seat and vehicle it’s possible the technician will need to access the rear of your SUV or van, so having the trunk/back hatch space clear is also helpful.
At the Seat Check
How long does it take?
This one-on-one education session typically takes about 45 minutes for one car seat in one car, depending on the car seat(s) and the vehicle. The CPST should take all the time necessary to ensure that you feel competent and confident in re-installing the car seat into the vehicle and re-buckling your child into the car seat on your own.
Seat checks that involve multiple car seats or cars will of course take longer.
The very rare seat check is shorter, usually because the caregiver has read and understood the manual, there are no complications to troubleshoot, and has few questions.
If you have arranged a private check with a CPST, the location, time, and cost (if any) will be prearranged. If you are attending a car seat clinic you may have an appointment time, or are trying your luck by dropping in. If you are attending a seat check event that is part of a technician training course, be aware that the technicians-in-training are new and still learning. Be understanding, and know that they are being supervised by their instructor.
What exactly goes on during a seat check?
During the seat check, a CPST will:
- Have you sign a liability waiver.
- Fill out a check form with details about your vehicle, seat, and child. You will usually be offered a copy of this form, either in paper or digital form.
- The technician will uninstall the seat, even if it appears to be perfectly installed when you arrive.
- Review car seat selection appropriate for your child’s age, size, and review factors affecting proper use. CPSAC technicians promote best practice, which includes rear facing well beyond the minimums, and not rushing to boostering. If the seat is expired, outgrown, or otherwise not suitable for your child or vehicle the technician may be able to suggest specific seats that will work. If you’re shopping for a seat we have lists of favourites in all categories (infant, convertible, combination, and booster) that are a good place to start.
- Review the car seat manual and the vehicle owner’s manual with the caregiver and ensure that both are being followed correctly. If no manual is available the CPST will reference labels on the seat, or may be able to access a matching manual online. They will advise you to acquire a manual from the manufacturer. If a specific question comes up that the manual can not address, and it’s business hours, you may call the manufacturer’s customer service department together.
- Ensure that an appropriate seating position in the vehicle is being used.
- Check the car seat for recalls, visible damage, and an expiration date.
- If you are not the original owner of the seat, the technician will discuss the risks of a used seat.
- Troubleshoot and try the installation.
- Have you install the car seat(s) correctly using either the seat belt or UAS. You are encouraged to ask to learn how to install the seat with either system or in different seating positions, where time allows.
- Discuss the next steps for each child, such as when to move to the next type of car seat.
- Discuss the benefits of everyone riding properly restrained, including all adults and pets.
- Discuss safety in and around the vehicle.
- Discuss and demonstrate proper fit of your child in the seat.
- Discuss your provincial laws and best practice recommendations for occupant safety.
- Document any observations, changes, or advice given during the seat check. You may have homework or follow-up items to address.
- After the seat check, ensure you can say yes to ALL of these questions:
- Did you perform the final installation or assist in performing the final installation?
- Do you feel confident about installing and using the car seat correctly?
- Were your questions answered? If not, were you given direction as to whom you should contact or will the CPSAC technician follow up with you?
I’m convinced. How do I find a CPST near me?
CPSAC technicians who are able to meet with caregivers are listed on CPSAC’s Find A Tech map. Reach out to someone near you. If there isn’t anyone near you, CPSAC may be able to help. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to become a CPST. How do I do that?
CPST training courses are offered across Canada by the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada. Currently scheduled courses can be seen here. The busiest times for courses are April-June and September-October. Just like CPSTs, instructors may be employed by an organization that hosts and funds much of the training, such as public health or law enforcement, or they may work independently. As such, cost for training varies widely.
CPSAC instructors plan courses when and where there is demand. If you are motivated to attend a course it may make sense for you to host one! Working with community partners to build CPST capacity in your area takes some work and planning, but is well worth the effort. If this might apply to you, reach out to CPSAC at email@example.com for more information.