The Safest Way For Your Kids To Ride

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Linda Orosz, MD
Despite your squirmy toddler’s protests, every time you click your child into their car seat, you’re showing just how much you care. If you were to get into an accident, having your child in a car seat can reduce your child’s risk for injury by 71 percent to 82 percent and the risk for death by nearly 30 percent, research shows.

Many parents (and children) are eager for the day when they can turn the car seat to a forward-facing position. Before you do the switcheroo, however, be sure to review the latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Keep Kids Rear-Facing As Long As Possible

Previously, the AAP recommended that children remain rear-facing until age 2. The AAP recently updated its car seat safety guidelines in late 2018. The biggest change? They’re no longer based on age.

The AAP now recommends kids stay rear-facing until they reach the maximum height or weight the car seat manufacturer allows. Most convertible car seats have rear-facing weight limits up to at least 40 pounds. For many kids, that occurs well beyond their second birthday.

“Once your child reaches the rear-facing height or weight limit for their car seat and you can safely turn their seat around, they should continue riding in their car seat until they reach the maximum forward-facing weight or height limit,” says Linda Orosz, MD, a general pediatrician with UH Rainbow KidsFirst Pediatrics.

Why keep them rear-facing for so long? If a crash occurs, the car seat’s hard shell supports the child’s head, neck and spine, and the car seat absorbs most of the impact. When kids are forward-facing, however, the harness straps restrain their bodies, but their heads can get thrown forward. That can result in injuries to the head and spine.

Other Car Seat Safety Tips

In addition to keeping children rear-facing for as long as possible, Dr. Orosz offers a few more ways you can help protect your kids in the car:

  • Make sure the harness straps fit snugly against the body.
  • Slide the chest clip to armpit level to keep the harness straps secure.
  • Never use a car seat that’s been in a crash, has been recalled, has cracks, is missing parts or is beyond the expiration date on the label.
  • Remove bulky clothing, such as winter coats and snowsuits, before putting your child in the car seat – in a crash, they flatten out and your child could get thrown from the seat.

Contact the car seat’s manufacturer if you have any questions about the safety or proper installation of your car seat.

Your Child's Comfort

You may look at your child’s bent legs or other funky position when riding in their rear-facing car seat and wonder whether this is still safe.

The short answer is yes. As long as they are still within the weight and height limit for the rear-facing car seat, it’s the safest place to ride – pretzel legs and all.

Children’s feet or legs may touch the back of the car seat, but they can bend them easily and still be comfortable. Injuries to the legs are very rare for children when they’re riding rear-facing.

Related links

Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital offers free car seat checks. Visit UHRainbow.org/CarSeatCheck to learn about our car seat fitting stations, staffed by nationally certified child passenger safety technicians.

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