Latest Recommendations Urge Parents to Keep Children in Rear-Facing Car Seats Until Age 2
Parenting young children is all about milestones – watching and anxiously awaiting for the first step, first tooth, and first word. But when it comes to keeping little ones safe in the car, parents should not be too eager to reach the milestone of turning them around into a forward-facing car seat.
That is because children riding in rear-facing seats are much safer. In fact, children who ride rear facing are five times safer than those riding forward facing. While many parents have heard from friends or family that 1 year and 20 pounds are the requirements for turning car seats around, this is outdated and inaccurate information.
As of 2011, the official recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is to keep kids in rear-facing car seats until at least age 2, or until they reach the maximum height or weight of the seat.
The reason that rear facing is safer for small children is simple. In a rear-facing car seat, the baby’s entire body is protected by the shell of the seat. These seats are designed to protect a child’s head, neck and spine and prevent the most life-threatening and debilitating injuries in a crash. The bodies of children in forward-facing seats are restrained by the harnesses, but in a crash the head is thrown forward, stressing, stretching or even breaking the spinal cord.
Why Common Objections Are Not Worth the Risk
The certified child passenger safety technicians at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital install more than 1,000 car seats a year. Take a look at some of the most common objections they hear to keeping kids rear facing and learn why even these concerns can not compete with the simple fact that rear-facing children are five times safer.
- His legs will be injured in a crash if they are up against the seat:
While this may seem like a reasonable concern, there is actually no evidence of leg, hip or feet injuries to children in rear-facing seats. In fact, studies show that forward-facing kids are more likely to have leg injuries when they are thrown forward in a crash and their legs hit the seat in front of them. Even if a child were to suffer a broken leg in a rear-facing seat, it would be much less severe than the head, neck, and spine injuries that could result from turning a child forward facing too soon.
- I can’t see her:
As much as you would like to be able to see your baby while on the road, it is not worth compromising her safety, and the temptation to take your eyes off the road just for a few seconds to see what she is up to is extremely dangerous for both of you. In less than four seconds your car will cover the length of a football field when traveling at 60 mph. Singing songs, telling stories, and just talking to your baby are great ways to interact and let her know you are there without having to take your eyes off the road.
- He is uncomfortable:
Kids are much more flexible than adults and often sit and sleep in positions that grown ups could never dream of being comfortable. Although your child may look cramped in a rear-facing seat, rest assured that sitting with his legs crossed or even frog-legged is comfortable for a 2-year-old. Just as adults recline the seat a bit to rest comfortably while traveling, the angle of a rear-facing seat also makes it easier for kids to nap in a comfortable position without their heads bobbing.
- She does not like facing backward:
If rear facing is all she has ever known, your child should not have a problem remaining rear facing. Bottom line is there are lots of things kids have to do because it is good for them, whether they like it or not: brushing teeth, eating vegetables, getting enough sleep. Making sure your child is properly restrained in the car is one of those battles you definitely need to pick, and win. For children less than 2 years old, that means keeping them rear facing despite any protests. Consistently praising children for good car seat behavior and ignoring attempts at negative attention can go a long way toward making car travel smooth and enjoyable for all.
- It is hard to get him in and out of the seat:
As your child gets bigger it is a little more challenging to get him in and out of a rear-facing car seat. But as we all know kids can be inconvenient. The desire for ease of use should not outweigh best safety practices. Teaching an older child to climb into his own seat can simplify the process.
- I already turned her around at one year, I can’t turn her rear facing now:
Yes you can and you should. Now that you know it is five times safer for her to travel rear facing, protect her in the best way you know how and reinstall the seat in a rear-facing position until she is 2 years old or reaches the maximum height or weight for the seat. She may protest the first few times, but with the help of some distraction and redirection it shouldn’t take long for rear facing to become her new normal once again.
- He is a big baby, so he is strong enough to go forward facing:
It may seem logical that a baby in the 95th percentile is much stronger than a smaller baby and could endure the forces of a crash better than a child at the smaller end of the growth chart. However, a bigger baby is likely more at risk riding forward facing. The development of the neck and spine are about the same in children of the same age, regardless of size. A big baby likely has a much larger and heavier head, which would snap forward with a much greater force than a smaller child’s in crash, making it even more important to keep him rear facing for as long as possible. The good news is that all convertible car seats on the market today can be used rear facing until at least 30 pounds, with some going as high as 45 pounds.