For many years, the rule of thumb has been to keep toddlers in infant seats that face the rear until they turned one year of age, which is required by car seat laws of 13 states. However, new policies published by the American Academy of Pediatrics now calls for a child to be in a rear-facing seat until the age of two, or until the child exceed the height and weight limit printed on the car seat.
Why Is Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws Needed?
Numerous studies have been done on the injuries and fatalities associated with car seats and infants. A 2007 study found that children under the age of two are 75 percent less likely to suffer severe injury or death if they are in a rear-facing seat; the risk of injury or death goes up dramatically in a front-facing seat, according to the Injury Prevention journal. A similar study found that babies were five times safer if they are facing backward in the vehicle, rather than forward. Given those tests, now the recommendation of the APP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are that a child remains rear-facing until they are outgrowing their seat. For most children, that means at least until the age of two, but for some children it might mean even up the age of three.
But why does the rear-facing seat matter so much? It comes down to physics. The safety seat distributes the force of the collision over the entire body, and does a better job of supporting the head, spine and neck of infants and toddlers when a crash happens. Besides that, your child’s arms and legs are much more likely to be protected from crush injuries. In fact, the risk of injuries to the arms and legs of a child in a rear-facing seat is less than one in every 10,000 accidents – that’s pretty good odds!
Below is a video of crash tests that compare forward and rear-facing seats. You can see for yourself which one is better for your child.
Tips on Using Rear-Facing Car Seats
No matter what the seat you are using, proper installation is the key to making sure it provides enough protection for your child. Here are a few tips that can help ensure you do it properly.
- The car seat must be installed tightly in the vehicle. You should not be able to move it more than one inch to either side.
- Never place the baby’s car seat in the front seat of your vehicle. The passenger air bag could inflate in an accident and lead to serious injury.
- The seat must be at the correct angle to prevent your child’s head from flopping forward while in the seat. Every seat comes with adjustors, so make sure you know how to use it.
- The harness should be at or below your baby’s shoulders, and the harness clip should be at the mid-chest.
- If you are using a convertible seat, double-check to make sure the belts are going through the appropriate holes in the seat.
Q&A about Rear-Facing Car Seats
It’s common for parents to have plenty of questions about the new rear facing car seat guidelines. Here are answers to some of the most common questions from certified child passenger safety technicians.
Q. Isn’t Rear-Facing Awkward?
A. Yes, it is. Front-facing seats make it easier to interact with your child, and often make it easier to put the child in his or her seat. However, experts stress that it is important to consider your child’s safety over convenience.
Q. What If My Baby Exceeds the Weight Limit for Rear Seat Before He Turns Two?
A. Once your child reaches this milestone, purchase a rear-facing booster seat that allows your child to sit in the same position until the age of two. At that point, you can then move your child to a front-facing seat.
Q. What Should I Do If My Infant Has Gotten Used to Forward-Facing?
A. Consider switching your child back to a rear-facing seat. Some babies might really hate this, so if that is the case, make sure that what you are using is appropriate and properly secured in the car. If you can possibly convince your child to take the rear-facing route, however, make sure you do that instead.
Q. When Can I Switch My Baby to Forward-Facing?
A. Keeping your child in the rear-facing seat is always best. You can even find booster seats that support a child up to 45 pounds in the rear-facing position! When you do switch them, ensure the new seat is properly fastened and buckled. Finally, remember that the APP now recommends the age of two as the minimum age, so definitely wait until then to make the switch.