From Safe Ride 4 Kids
It’s long been known and taught by Car Passenger Safety Technicians that keeping children rear facing for as long as possible is safest and best practice. And while many state laws still say the minimum is one year and 20 pounds, the American Academy of Pediatrics has finally made more known their recommendation to keep children rear facing for as long as possible — but at least until they are 2. The preference is to keep them rear facing until they reach the maximum height and weight allowances for their car seat.
The stats definitely show rear facing as a better position for infants, toddlers AND young preschoolers. (And sharing the stats may be the easiest response to someone wanting to turn forward facing earlier than recommended.) Simply children are 5 times safer riding rear facing rather than forward facing. According to a 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention, children under 2 are 75 percent LESS likely to die or be seriously injured if they are in a rear-facing car seat.
“A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body,” said Dennis Durbin, M.D., FAAP. “For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly.”
A great majority of severe crashes, 72%, are frontal impact and rear-facing car seats are specifically made to help a child “ride down” a front impact crash. Remember children, especially infants, have very immature bones and connective tissue which make serious injury a greater possibility.
During a crash when a child is in a rear-facing car seat it’s entire body is cradled, which spreads the crash force across the whole area and reduces pressure. When a child is turned forward-facing, the head and legs are thrown forward during a crash and serious forces are put on the child’s spinal cord. If you use an egg analogy, an egg is much less likely to break if it is caught in the whole padded area of your hand rather than a couple of fingers.
I always like to tell parents that the requirements and practices in Sweden are different. There children are often kept rear facing much longer, even to 3 or 4 years old. Auto related injury and death rates for rear-facing children in Sweden are near zero because of this.
So it baffles me when parents want to turn their children forward facing earlier than necessary. I’ve spoken to a lot of parents who treat a first birthday as some sort of graduation to forward facing. Many other parents begin to get concerned about possible leg injuries because the child’s legs are folded. Other parents simply are under the impression that their child must be uncomfortable. Why is this? Because the parent would be uncomfortable sitting criss cross applesauce?
Personally I like sitting criss-cross applesauce and could definitely sleep better in the car leaning back with sides upon which to lean my head. Do they make a rear-facing adult seat? It’s coming, I know it, because it’s soooo much SAFER for everyone!
Think about how flexible and the absolute strange ways your child will sit even when not in the car. Children are comfortable — and comfortably sleep — in some of the strangest positions. And if you ask most children old enough to speak and have an opinion, they would say they are perfectly comfortable in the rear-facing position.
As far as leg injuries go, there is not a single documented case of children’s legs, hips, etc. breaking or being injured in a crash due to longer rear facing. And even if it were a likelihood, as a paramedic CPS tech I know likes to say and puts it very visually for parents, “Would you rather a broken leg or broken neck?” Studies show that forward-facing kids are actually more likely to have leg injuries.
I’ve even heard parents request that their child be turned forward facing because the child wants to. I have to laugh to myself when I hear this especially when the child is in question is only a year old. I’m sorry, but, really, your child told you this? It seems that parents have this belief most often when the child has older siblings who are forward facing. Having already been a CPS tech for several years by the time my second child was nearing this time period, I took preemptive precautions by talking about how much safer and fun it is to ride rear-facing. She never complained.
So we all agree now to keep our children rear facing as long as possible, right? So how long is that?
Like I said before AAP and NHTSA suggests at least until 2 but preferably until they reach the maximum height and weight allowances for their car seat. So it really depends on the car seat your child is using. The rear-facing weight range for car seats is 30 to 45 pounds. The height range also varies seat to seat but your child is too tall for his/her seat when his/her head is within one inch from the top of the car seat. To give you an age reference, my two big kids have really long torsos and outgrew their rear-facing seat by height when they were between 2 1/2 and 3. Many other children can comfortably remain rear facing up to age 4.
So keep those children safer by keeping them rear facing as long as possible. And as far as you are concerned, you’ll just have to wait until one day when someone makes a car with rear facing seats for adult passengers. (And hopefully, they’ll have some nice side headrests for me to use when sleeping.)
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids, of the Ride Safer Travel Vest and Tummy Shield, and CPS Tech since 2004